House Of Commons
Tuesday, 24th May, 1949
The House met at Half-past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Dartford Tunnel (Extension Of Time) Bill
Read a Second time, and committed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Hearing Aids (Batteries)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that Scottish patients already possessing commercial aids to hearing are denied free batteries; and whether he will take steps to make them available.
I regret that the administrative difficulties involved in providing batteries for all the commercial types of hearing-aids would preclude their provision under the National Health Service.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some 10 per cent. of sufferers get no benefit from the Medresco artificial aids and that some of them provided their own commercial sets and used to get funds to help in the upkeep and provision of batteries? Would it not be more economical for the country to provide batteries for a set which gives satisfaction rather than force the sufferer to get a completely new set which does not give satisfaction and costs more?
There is no evidence that the Medresco set is unsatisfactory. As I have indicated, there would be considerable administrative difficulties in setting up machinery by which the hospitals were compelled to supply batteries.
Will my hon. Friend say what the administrative difficulties are? Does he realise that there is a great shortage of these batteries in the North-east of Scotland and will he see that this is rectified?
Would the hon. Gentleman like me to send him official statistical figures of those who have tried the Medresco set without benefit but who receive benefit from other sets?
We shall be glad to have evidence on which to base that assertion.
Dean Of Guild, Aberdeen
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if in view of the fact that the office of Dean of Guild fills ex-officio a seat in Aberdeen Town Council without being elected to it, he will abolish the ex-officio right of the Dean of Guild to sit as a member of the town council there.
As my right hon. Friend indicated in reply to Questions on 17th May, he is looking into the whole question of the Dean of Guild and cannot at present make any statement.
The Secretary of State stated last Tuesday that he was looking into the whole affair with regard to Glasgow. Will his investigations include other towns and cities in Scotland, particularly Aberdeen, which are affected by this?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Dean of Guild of Aberdeen represents very important interests in that city and that he and his predecessors holding this high office have given the utmost satisfaction and have received the greatest admiration from the citizens of Aberdeen? Is it not the case that the hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes) who is a Welshman, seems to be quite incapable of appreciating the historical past of that city?
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in Order for the hon. Member to make a mis-statement about my nationality?
I cannot say that it is out of Order. I do not like personal taunts myself, but it is not out of Order.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the only Royal Commission which has inquired into this matter recommended in 1834 that this anomalous office "should now be abolished"? Does he not agree that recent happenings in Glasgow have strengthened that recommendation?
Can my hon. Friend give an indication when the Secretary of State is likely to report to the House on this matter?
To come back to the original Question, may we assume that the Aberdeen Dean of Guild is a Conservative?
I am not prepared to make any assumption but, as I have already indicated, my right hon. Friend promised a week ago to look into the whole question, which is one of very considerable complexity and I am sorry that I cannot say when he will be able to make a statement.
Development Rights (Claims)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many claims, to the nearest convenient date, have been received by the Central Land Board from property owners; and what steps are being taken to make them aware of their entitlement to compensation for loss of development rights.
Up to 20th May, 7,728 claims had been received. Since the middle of June last year, a fortnight before the appointed day, the Central Land Board have given continuous publicity to the need for claiming on the £300 million by announcements and advertisements in all sections of the Press, by broadcast, by poster, and by pamphlets available at local authority offices. The Press has been particularly helpful recently on the need to send in claims before 30th June.
Could my hon. Friend say how the numbers of claims made compare with the numbers that were anticipated? Is he further aware that small property owners are in considerable doubt as to their position, and will he see if he can clarify it for them?
I cannot agree that there is widespread doubt as to the necessity of making the claims before 30th June. I may add that as a result of the increased publicity last week 34,000 additional claims for forms came forward.
Can my hon. Friend explain why it is necessary that before form S.I. 1 is returned it must be filled in by a surveyor or a legal man? Is it not putting the property owner to a great deal of expense to insist on this?
I think my hon. Friend is slightly misinformed on that point. The original claims can be submitted by the applicant without the necessity for legal advice.
I have a form in my possession at the moment—[An HON. MEMBER: "Property owner!"]—I cannot fill it in without sending it to a lawyer or surveyor.
Will my hon. Friend give an answer to the second point in my supplementary question, as to the number of claims anticipated? Is he aware that small property owners have been assured that under the Act they have no claim whatsoever? That has been broadcast.
Hospital Employee, Castle Douglas
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that Mr. Robert Hogg who was employed for 27 years as caretaker and gardener at Castle Douglas and District Hospital has been refused a pension by the Department of Health for Scotland who have dismissed him on the ground of ill-health; and if he will give this decision reconsideration in view of the fact that the old hospital board proposed to give Mr. Hogg a pension of £52 per annum which proposal was departed from on the passing of the Health Service (Scotland) Act in 1947, on the ground that as a new governing body would take over the board's responsibilities the question of a pension should properly be left to them.
No, Sir. Mr. Hogg worked on a jobbing basis, and the old board had contemplated replacing him—as the new board have done—by a full-time employee. But the records show that the old board declined to accept a recommendation that he should receive a pension. Moreover, they took no steps to reverse this decision before July, 1948, although they were invited to declare their intentions regarding pensions for their employees; and there is no record of any employee of the hospital ever having received a gratuitous pension.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable local feeling about this man, who has given 20 years' loyal service, and that it is regarded as one of the worst illustrations of the callous operation of State Socialism?
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree, in view of what my hon. Friend has said, that there is a degree of doubt about this? Should it not be looked into again in order to allay public suspicion, even if it is not correct?
I think the information of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) is not complete, especially on the latter point he made, but if he has any evidence in his possession to show that our information in inaccurate, I shall be glad to reconsider it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that undertaking, and I certainly will bring it to his notice. May I ask if he is aware that the information was supplied to me by members of the board in question?
Ministry Of Pensions
asked the Minister of Pensions the numbers of suction socket artificial legs now under trial by selected legless patients; for how long the trials have been proceeding; and when the suction socket limb is likely to be put on the approved list for general issue to all war pensioners to whom they would prove advantageous.
About 50 patients have been wearing artificial legs fitted with suction sockets for varying periods ranging up to about two years. As a result of observations made during these trials a number of modifications have been made, especially in connection with the valve. A supply of the improved valves has just been received and I now intend to ask a number of limbmakers throughout the country to fit suction sockets to their particular make of legs for trial by not less than another 100 patients.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that these trials have been going on for some time now, and that certain hopes have been held out to the limbless that this may be a much improved limb, if he can give any definite information at a near date whether these limbs are likely to be approved or not, anyhow in principle?
The trials have been satisfactory so far, but it has been possible during this period of trial to make sundry improvements, and we naturally wish to issue the limb generally only when we are satisfied that every possible improvement has been made. I would not like to commit myself to a definite date at this moment.
asked the Minister of Pensions how many mechanical hands, and types of hands, are undergoing trials by selected armless patients; for how long the trials have been proceeding; and when the mechanical hands are likely to be made available to all armless war pensioners.
Six mechanical hands of one type have undergone trials by selected amputees since April of last year, and reports are now available for consideration by the Standing Advisory Committee on artificial limbs at their next meeting which will probably be held late next month. Another type of mechanical hand has now been produced and is at present being tested. If the Standing Advisory Committee are satisfied with the performance of either or both of these types of mechanical hand, they will be made available to all disabled war pensioners and National Health Service patients for whom they are suitable.
asked the Minister of Pensions what are the provisions available for the widows of totally disabled and unemployable ex-Service men in cases where his Department cannot award a widow's pension, and there is no entitlement to a pension under National Insurance because of the man's inability to contribute by reason of his extreme disablement and unemployability.
I have no power to award a pension to the widow of a war pensioner whose death was not in any way related to the effects of his war service. I understand from my right hon. Friend, the Minister of National Insurance, that though a widow's pension can be awarded under the National Insurance Act only if the necessary contribution conditions are satisfied, he is prepared to review the circumstances of any case which the hon. Member has in mind to see if the insurance conditions can be regarded as satisfied. As I said in the course of the Debate on 26th April last, however, a widow who is ineligible for either pension may, if she is in need obtain assistance from the National Assistance Board.
Could not my right hon. Friend go a little further and produce some definite regulations on this point, in view of the fact that it is the general wish of everyone in the country that the widow of a man who is 100 per cent. disabled and disqualified from coming under the provisions of the National Insurance scheme should not have to go to the National Assistance Board when her husband dies?
As I said recently, we have made one advance in abolishing the distinction which existed previously between a death hastened by, and a death caused by war service. At the moment the number of cases coming forward of the type which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is comparatively few, and I have no evidence to show that if they go to the Assistance Board they are not received in a most sympathetic way.
Benefits (Minister's Letter)
asked the Minister of Pensions what the response has been to the personal letter and leaflet he sent to pensioners informing them of the benefits to which they were entitled.
The response to my letter to pensioners has been gratifying. I estimate that about 80,000 letters or interviews have so far resulted. In a substantial proportion of these cases, I have been able to help the pensioners in one way or another.
Is my right hon. Friend now satisfied that everything is being done to bring to the notice of pensioners many improvements which have taken place in the last few years, and is his Department able to cope with the tremendous increase which has come about through this?
Yes, Sir. I can think of no other way now that remains by which we could make it better known. A letter to every individual plus a good deal of publicity in the newspapers, has, I think, brought it home to every pensioner. As for coping with the work, the consequence, of course, has been a certain delay here and there in answering every letter, but we are over the peak and I think we have done quite well.
Would my right hon. Friend consider making a small stock of the leaflet available to the various voluntary organisations open to ex-Service men, so that should an ex-Service man lose, or fail to receive through the post, his own personal copy, he will have no difficulty in getting one locally.
Yes, Sir. I thank the hon. Member for that suggestion, and I will adopt it with pleasure.
Tank Exercises, Merioneth (Damage)
asked the Secretary of State for War why three heavy tanks from Trawsfynydd Camp, Merioneth, were recently driven over neighbouring roads and bridges which were too narrow for them, causing serious damage to roads, bridges, walls and ditches; why the tanks were driven through a boundary wall on to private agricultural land; and why tank exercises were then carried out on this land without any permission having been obtained or any explanation being given.
Three tanks were moved by transporters from Chester to Trawsfynydd to ascertain whether the area was suitable for tank training. A transporter on the route, which had been previously reconnoitred, had difficulty in negotiating two very sharp bends and blocked the road. While endeavouring to clear it damage was caused to the wall of a bridge. Because of this, the other two transporters were re-routed but these unfortunately also got into difficulties and caused damage to the road and a wall. Owing to a misunderstanding, one tank did go a short distance outside the boundary of War Department land but returned almost immediately and caused no damage to wall or fences. Apart from this no tank exercises were carried out on private agricultural land.
Does not the Minister agree that the experience of these three tanks with their transporters, which local people believe weighed over 100 tons apiece, shows that this area is totally unfitted for the type of training which the War Office proposes should take place there?
I think not.
Land Requirements, Scotland
asked the Secretary of State for War to what extent it is his practice to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland before he acquires for the use of his Department land needed for food production.
In accordance with the White Paper on needs of the Armed Forces for land for training and other purposes it is the policy of my Department to consult with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland before land is acquired.
May I ask the Minister if, when he consulted the Secretary of State for Scotland about the acquirement of the lease of the land near Lanark, he was informed that 24,000 gallons of milk and 100,000 rations of meat a year would be lost as a result of this action?
I am not aware of that, but no doubt I acquired all the relevant information.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the Secretary of State for Scotland is satisfied about the proposed acquisition of farming land in Morayshire?
There is another Question on that.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is an alternative to the large area of productive land recently acquired in Morayshire; a large area of moorland, which could be equally well used for the same purpose?
I should like to ask the Minister if the Secretary of State for Scotland is free to refuse him the right to come into Scotland and occupy land for this purpose, or whether the Minister is able to force his will upon the Secretary of State for Scotland?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if there were a Secretary of State for Wales, he would tell him how to avoid getting his tanks into difficulties?
asked the Secretary of State for War how many acres of land he is acquiring in Morayshire; how many families are to be removed from their farms; and if he has consulted the Departments concerned as to the effect such action is likely to have on food production.
We propose to use for training some 330 acres in Morayshire, which is not expected to lead to any families moving from their farms. The Departments of Health and Agriculture for Scotland have agreed to these proposals. There is a further military requirement for about 2,500 acres of land in the county for use as a week-end training centre. My Department have made a reconnaissance with the Departments of Health and Agriculture for Scotland, with a view to finding a suitable training area. No firm proposals have yet been made.
In view of the fact that this matter affects my constituents very deeply, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consider representations, if made to him, about using other land in the vicinity which would be less disturbing to food production and to the people living and working there?
asked the Secretary of State for War how many unauthorised families are still occupying huts belonging to his Department on land at Kestrel Grove, Stanmore; for what purpose his Department intend to use the site; and when it is intended to begin work on it.
Six unauthorised families are occupying huts belonging to my Department at Kestrel Grove, Stanmore. The site will be used to provide a permanent part of a large headquarters, replacing a property now held on requisition. I am not yet able to say when work will begin.
What is an "unauthorised family"?
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the wife of Staff Sergeant Mills of 32 (EA) MP and DB, P.O. Box 3017, Mombasa, Kenya, has been refused a public passage from Durban, where she now is, to Mombasa, unless she returns to the United Kingdom first, although this will involve extra cost both to Staff Sergeant Mills, and to his Department; and what steps he proposes to take to rectify this situation.
Staff Sergeant Mills' application for a public passage for his family from Durban to Mombasa has been under consideration in the War Office and no reply has yet been sent. He may, however, have been told by the local military authorities in East Africa that he is ineligible for such a passage as, in fact, he is. The grant of family passages is for the purpose of enabling families to be united for as long a period as is reasonably possible. It follows that entitlement to a passage at public expense is only recognised between the stations to which a soldier may be posted. If a family goes by private arrangement to some other place overseas it must find its way at private expense direct to the husband's duty station or to the United Kingdom or alternatively to some point on the normal passage route to the husband's duty station either from the United Kingdom or from his previous station, at which the ship can pick up the family.
Would not the Minister agree that it is quite absurd to bring the wife of Staff Sergeant Mills home to this country in order to send her to Mombasa?
We are not responsible for bringing her home to this country. If she wishes to return to this country that is a matter that suits her own convenience.
Trooping Voyages (Landing Facilities)
22 and 23.
asked the Secretary of State for War (1) at what Empire posts between Great Britain and Hong Kong formed bodies of troops are permitted to land for the purpose of exercise; in which cases landing charges are made; and from what source these are met;(2) if, in the interests of health and efficiency, he will amend the regulations which forbid the landing of formed bodies of troops at Aden for exercise during trooping voyages to the Far East.
The only point on Commonwealth territory at which formed bodies of troops are allowed to land for the purpose of exercise on the voyage from the United Kingdom to Hong Kong is Colombo. Landings are, however, also allowed for this purpose at Port Said. At both these places landing charges are made, but these charges are met from public funds. Voyage regulations generally are under review at present.
Would the right hon. Gentleman say why Aden, which presumably is still to be considered under British jurisdiction, does not give these facilities, as that is a very suitable point in a long voyage, whereas actually when such arrangements are made by commanding officers on their own initiative they have, I understand, to pay the cost from regimental funds?
The question of whether Aden should be used for this purpose will come under review in the general examination.
Forces, Hong Kong
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will take steps to avoid sending commissioned officers and men again to Hong Kong who suffered at the hands of the Japanese in prison camps following capture in Hong Kong by the Japanese during the recent war, since some of these men are still suffering from the effects of their long internment; and if he will have any such cases already brought to his notice looked into.
From the end of the war until August, 1947, no officers or men who had been prisoners of war in Japanese hands were sent to the Far East. Since that date there has been no such general restriction, nor do I think it is necessary to impose such a restriction as soldiers put under orders for the Far East are, of course, medically examined to ensure that they are fit for service there.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that long exposure to the brutalities of the Japanese during the war has well nigh permanently affected some of these men by the terms they served in prison camps and under forced labour schemes? Does he not think it inadvisable to add to their sufferings by sending them out again to renew their acquaintance with the scenes of their previous tortures?
If they have been adversely affected by their experience, I think that would be ascertained in their medical examinations.
Transport Vehicles, Tripoli
asked the Secretary of State for War what action he has been able to take following on the information recently put before this House as to the condition of equipment and transport vehicles in possession of the British troops in Tripoli; and whether he can give an assurance that these are now in all respects in a serviceable state.
I am not aware of the information to which the hon. and gallant Member refers. In common with the rest of the Army, units in the Middle East have been maintained on wartime stocks of vehicles so as to reduce demands on the civil production programme. These units will be supplied with a large proportion of the vehicles which are expected to be delivered from the large scale programme for the rebuilding of vehicles now in progress.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that not only are our equipment and vehicles in bad order at this station, due to fair wear and tear, but that also there are deficiencies in equipment and even of paint necessary to put them into some sort of decent order? Will he accelerate the provision of spare parts and paint?
The hon. and gallant Member seems to be in possession of information not available to me. In those exceptional circumstances, perhaps he will be good enough to let me have the information.
In view of the disturbed state of affairs there has been in Tripolitania recently, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to make sure that all available equipment is of the best?
We always try to provide what is the best, and as far as I know, that is precisely what is done.
asked the Secretary of State for War the amount of the daily ration of food granted to every soldier at home and abroad, respectively.
I am sending the hon. and gallant Member this information.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the ration, both at home and abroad, prior to the war was ¾ 1b. of meat and 1 1b. of bread per day, per man? Is not the present ration very much less than that and definitely insufficient to keep young men in the high physical condition necessary?
According to our information the physical condition of the men is excellent.
Middle East Forces (Home Leave)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider the reintroduction of home leave for men serving three years in the Middle East Land Forces and if air transport will be used for this purpose where adequate shipping is not available.
There is no intention of re-introducing a period of home leave during a normal tour of service in the Middle East Land Forces which is at present three to three and a half years.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is considerable discontent at this decision in view of the home leave given to Forces sent abroad but to places nearer to this country?
Naturally there is a distinction, due to transport difficulties and other circumstances, between the troops in North-West Europe and those in the Middle East.
Fever Cases, East Africa
asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on the deaths by suspected typhoid fever of two British soldiers at Mackinnon Road Depot, East Africa; and on what date these men were last inoculated against typhoid.
Thirteen cases of fever which clinically resembles enteric have been reported. I regret to say that two of the cases were fatal and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my sympathy with the relatives. The local military authorities are taking all proper steps to control the outbreak. I have called for a full report and will communicate to the hon. Member as soon as possible the information requested in the last part of the Question.
Would it be advisable for the right hon. Gentleman not merely to communicate with me, but to make a public statement on this subject, in view of the fact that otherwise people may be extremely worried about the conditions in this camp and begin to doubt the efficacy of inoculation against enteric?
The courtesy I desire to extend to the hon. Member, can be extended to all hon. Members.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what doctors are available at Mackinnon Road Depot?
Not without notice.
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that not all men who volunteer for the Territorial Army have their wages made up by their firms when they attend the summer camps and, in view of the need for recruits, what steps does he intend to take to rectify this situation which is acting as a deterrent to prospective recruits.
As has been indicated on many occasions, it is hoped that all employers who can will make up the difference between civil and Army pay, in cases where the former is higher, for employees who attend camp as volunteer members of the Territorial Army. I do not, however, consider that it would be desirable to attempt to use compulsion in this matter.
Is not the Minister wrong in putting the onus upon employers of labour? After all, this House has voted £700 million for Defence, and out of that sum could not the right hon. Gentleman ensure that these men are not at a disadvantage when they go to camp?
There is no question of putting any onus on anybody. It is a question of responsibility, which we all share.
Would not the best encouragement be that all Government Departments and local authorities should set the example in carrying out that policy?
That is precisely what they have done. Every Government Department has agreed to provide leave with pay; so have many of the nationalised industries. Where they have not yet agreed, the matter is under consideration. As regards municipal authorities, so far as I know there are no exceptions to the rule.
Is it not the case that the Government Departments who grant leave with pay do so at the expense of the taxpayers, and is there any reason why private employers should not similarly be able to give these men their pay at the expense of the taxpayers?
The Government have accorded this privilege and it is working quite satisfactorily. If employers are prepared to do as Government Departments are doing, very well; but if they are not prepared to do so, then we must suffer.
This Question dealt with firms and not with Government Departments, I think.
Rifle Range, Horncastle
asked the Secretary of State for War why he has appointed a full-time warden for the miniature rifle range at Horncastle, Lincolnshire.
The range at Horncastle is a 400 yard range with a miniature range attached. The warden was appointed by the local military authorities to keep it in good condition and prepare for firing practice. I am, however, investigating whether this can be done in some more economical way.
Is the Minister aware that there was no warden before the war, and will he ensure that economy is made in this matter?
That is precisely what I wish to investigate.
Town And Country Planning
Rehousing (New Towns)
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning how soon he estimates that some 6,000 applicants for houses in the Finchley area, for whom the borough council will not be able to find accommodation, can be rehoused in one of the new or expanded towns.
The rehousing of the excess population of the inner London authorities depends upon the building of the new and expanded towns, and the rate at which this can take place depends on general housing policy and on the overall investment programme. Detailed arrangements for associating particular new towns with particular congested areas are under consideration, and the claims of Finchley will be taken into account; but I am unable to say when their total needs will be met.
Is the Minister aware that an important officer in his Department wrote to the town clerk last October saying that he would give a detailed reply as to how these people could be re-housed very early this year? Can the right hon. Gentleman say when some answer, or further letter, will be sent by his Department to the borough council?
This is under active consideration and I hope it will not be long before a reply can be given.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether particular new towns, or parts of new towns, are being allocated to particular boroughs or areas in central London?
That is the point of the examination. I think it will be done in part, but it might be a mistake to allocate the whole of a new town to a number of particular authorities.
Gravel Workings, Lea Valley
32 and 33.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planing (1) what conditions he proposes to lay down in connection with the request of the St. Albans Sand and Gravel Company for permission to develop further gravel diggings in the vicinity of the Lea Valley tomato and cucumber industries; and, in particular, if one of these conditions will be excavation by means of wet grabs;(2) when he expects to announce the result of the inquiry, held in January of this year, into the application of the St. Albans Sand and Gravel Co. to extract gravel dry from pits in the vicinity of the Lea Valley tomato and cucumber glass houses.
My decision to allow a limited form of wet working by the St. Albans Sand and Gravel Company at Nazeing was issued yesterday. As the decision letter is somewhat long and detailed, with my hon. Friend's permission I am sending her a copy. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is issuing a licence limiting the amount by which the subsoil water level may be lowered.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this long delay has very well suited this company, since they have been pumping from their old pits and, although they gave eight million gallons of water as the estimate, they have been pumping 12 million gallons from their old pits, the subsidence of the houses is increasing, and tomato growers have not the water necessary for heavy waterings at this time of the year?
I can assure my hon. Friend that such delay as has occurred was not for the benefit of the applicants. All the other facts will be taken into account in arriving at a decision.
May I ask my hon. Friend why he has given this facility to this particular company, and why, while every other new company in the area has had to observe the three directives he gave to gravel diggers, this company has not had to observe them?
I think my hon. Friend ought to read the letter giving the decisions.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether he is aware of the threat to the beauty of English churchyards from black stove-enamelled headstones and other monuments devised in stone or marble imported from abroad; and what action he proposes to stop their erection.
I am quite content to leave this matter to the judgment of the church authorities concerned, and I would deprecate any attempt to use the powers of the Act to interfere in a matter where personal feelings may be so deeply and intimately concerned.
As I am sure my right hon. Friend would be one of the first to turn in his grave if one of these headstones was put up to his memory, will he make personal representations to the Church authorities to enforce the regulations and to use such facilities as are available to them to prevent the widespread desecration of the countryside by the erection of these headstones?
I do not think I should interfere.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would be well for his hon. Friend to name the dioceses he has in mind, so that the diocesans, chancellors and incumbents may be aroused to their rights and responsibilities, if they are not already alive to them?
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning if he will make a statement as to the rate of progress of ironstone excavations in the Kettering rural district; and when he proposes to impose conditions to insure the restoration of the land.
Excavation is progressing at about 150 acres a year. In reply to the second part of the Question, I would refer my hon. and learned Friend to the concluding paragraph of the reply which I gave him on 31st January. I am not yet able to add anything to that reply.
Can the Minister give no idea of when he thinks he will be imposing restrictions ensuring restoration?
We are imposing restrictions as we go along, but that is not the Question on the Order Paper.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the ever increasing rate with which this despoliation is taking place owing to the increased size of machinery? Is he aware that it is quite easy, if properly organised, to replace the top soil, and that though it costs more, it ought to be done?
It is not so simple as my hon. Friend imagines. It does involve the provision of very heavy and expensive machinery.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of imposing restrictions as he goes along. Is he taking any action with a view to the restoration of the land already excavated?
I have no power. That land was excavated at a time when there was no planning control. I have no power to impose conditions in regard to what was done before planning control came into effect.
Is it not the case that a great deal has been excavated since there has been planning control?
Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that this excavation is going on without any conditions to ensure restoration? Does he realise that this is an urgent matter and that it is provoking a great deal of well justified feeling and apprehension in the whole of Northamptonshire? Cannot my right hon. Friend give us some idea of when these conditions will be imposed?
My hon. and learned Friend really ought to understand the position. A good deal of work is going on today as a result of the fact that there were no restrictions until about two years ago. It is possible to impose conditions as regards any new excavations.
Then why does not my right hon. Friend do so?
That is not what I am asked in the Question, but in fact we do impose conditions on new workings. The difficulty that arises, and the difficulty inherent in that question arises, from those workings which were begun before control was effective, and I am powerless as regards them.
Does not my right hon. Friend recollect that he told the House that workings were proceeding at present over a large area without any conditions ensuring restoration, and when will such conditions be imposed.
That is exactly the question which I am answering. The workings which are taking place without conditions are those which were begun before planning control came into effect, and I have no power in regard to them. I hope that it may be possible to make some agreement about them, but they are not affected by the planning control.
What about the present excavations to which the Minister has just referred? Cannot some conditions be imposed as regards them as well as excavations in the immediate future?
That is just the Question that I am answering. I take it that the present excavations are the work which is going on as a result of mineral workings which were started before planning control came into effect. As regards any new workings, conditions are imposed.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning on what dates since 3rd February, 1949, the Standing Conference on Ironstone in the Midland Field has met; with what results; and when he expects a report.
Meetings were held on 17th March and 28th April. Working parties were set up at those meetings to consider certain special aspects of the problem, and reports from some of these working parties have been discussed. I cannot say when the Conference will be able to reach considered conclusions.
Will the Minister consider the advisability of publishing some of the proceedings and some of the results emanating from this standing conference?
I do not see much value in publishing partial discussions until decisions have been reached.
Will this conference report to my right hon. Friend on the advisability of making regulations to stop the existing workings continuing in the absence of replacement of the top soil? Are they making any report on that point?
They are being asked to report on future workings.
But future workings and present workings are the same. They go on for years and years.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning what are his reasons for proposing to set up a second and parallel Standing Conference on Ironstone in the Midland Field; and what purpose the body will serve.
These discussions are to enable me to have advice from the interests concerned in the industry on problems relating to development plans, restoration of worked-out land and so on. Because it was impossible to persuade the producers and the royalty owners to sit down together we are obliged to have separate discussions with both sides. My Regional Controller is in charge of both discussions.
Is it called by the Minister's Parliamentary Secretary a parallel conference because it never meets the other one?
They do in fact meet under the chairmanship of the Regional Controller.
Will my right hon. Friend assure us that proceedings will not be projected into infinity?
asked the Minister of National Insurance the numbers of men and women, respectively, insured persons who, although beyond retiral age on 5th April, 1949, were continuing in full employment.
The latest information indicates that of all insured persons reaching pensionable age who could have qualified for retirement pension, about 64 per cent. of the men and 50 per cent. of the women continue in employment.
Are these percentages more or less stationary or are they showing a tendency progressively to increase?
These percentages apply to an inquiry which we made a few months ago. Another inquiry is in progress as a result of which we shall have more information about the operation of the new Act. I hope to have these figures available in a few weeks' time.
asked the Minister of National Insurance the numbers of men and women, respectively, in receipt of retirement pensions on 5th April, 1949, who were receiving supplementary allowances on the maximum scale.
Supplementary grants made by the National Assistance Board vary according to need and there is no figure which could properly be described as a maximum grant. I regret therefore that I am unable to give the information for which my hon. Friend asks.
Is it not the case that there are maximum scales and an uppermost limit which can be granted by the National Assistance Board, and since those limits are applied to people without resources is my right hon. Friend satisfied that existing scales, which were fixed at a time when the cost of living was six points lower than it is now, are satisfactory in existing circumstances?
I am not sure that my hon. Friend's figures are correct. The existing scales were fixed last July, and represented a substantial advance on the previous scales.
Ships' Officers (Holiday Periods)
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is aware that his regulations treat a ship's captain who goes on a legitimate and agreed temporary holiday as an unemployed person; and as this practice inflicts hardship and injustice on such captains, if he will amend his regulations in this respect.
Liability to pay contributions during holidays varies according to the circumstances, and I should want to know all the particulars before I could say what the position is in a particular case. If my hon. Friend has a case in mind and cares to let me have the details, I will look into it.
Does my right hon. Friend recollect the case of Captain David Baxter of Footdee, Aberdeen, about which I have had some correspondence with his Department? Will he address his mind to that case with a view to giving me a satisfactory answer?
I will look at the case again and reply again to my hon. and learned Friend.
Broadcasting (Committee Of Inquiry)
asked the Lord President of the Council what are the qualifications of the members of the Radcliffe Committee which caused them to be appointed to investigate the affairs of the British Broadcasting Corporation, other than those who are Members of Parliament.
What was needed for this purpose was a committee not of specialists, but rather of persons of broad approach and a capacity for balanced judgment. All the members were chosen because of experience and personal qualities which fitted them to serve on this important inquiry.
In view of the recently disclosed food irregularities which the B.B.C. is now investigating at several of its 52 canteens, which automatically call into question the system of internal auditing and accounting, will my right hon. Friend consider adding to the Committee a qualified accountant so that these matters may be considered by an independent expert in accountancy on the Committee?
I do not think so. It would be a legitimate subject for inquiry by the Committee, but I should think that if they consider that they need accountancy assistance some arrangement could be made to that end.
Is there a panel of people who are permanent "sitters-in" to Government Committees?
No, Sir. But if there was such a panel my hon. Friend would, of course, be eligible to make application to be included in it.
In view of the fact that the Committee has been elected because of qualifications, may I ask the Lord President if he will consider the appointment of some additional member from Scotland, other than the Earl of Elgin, because in my view the people of Scotland cannot be properly represented by the Earl of Elgin.
Scotland is not represented as such. I sought to get a committee which was broadly representative of the general life of the nation. If I may say so, I deprecate these over-localisations in relation to the personal criticism of individuals.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the reasons for the delay in taking to the courts the refusal of some manufacturers of model aircraft accessories to charge Purchase Tax on goods sold to the public under the provisions of the Finance Act, 1948, which delay is placing firms which accept the Treasury interpretation of the law at a disadvantage in relation to their competitors.
It has been necessary to agree a comprehensive list of the products of the industry to be made the subject of this "test" action. Agreement has now been reached and a Declaratory Judgment of the High Court will be sought in the near future.
Tax Repayment (Legal Decision)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he has now come to a conclusion on the observations of Mr. Justice Vaisey on 16th March in Sebel Products Limited v. Commissioners of Customs and Excise; and whether he will indicate his future policy with regard to the retention by the Crown of tax paid under mistake of law.
Yes, Sir. The judge expressed the view that there was no reason why, in appropriate cases, the Crown should not refuse to repay money paid voluntarily under a mistake of law, but gave his reasons for thinking that it was a defence that ought to be used by a Government Department with great discretion. The Government endorse this view, which indeed accords with the practice generally followed by Departments in the past, and the Treasury is issuing a circular to ensure that the practice of Departments continues to conform with it in the future.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman review the collection by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise of Purchase Tax on car radios, which was collected without any statutory sanction whatsoever? Will he see that that question is reviewed in due course?
I do not think it is necessary to review that again. As the hon. Member knows, it was reviewed many times.
Gold Payments (Switzerland)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what amounts of gold have been paid to Switzerland under the Anglo-Swiss Payments Agreement in 1949.
£4,575,000 to date.
As this drain on gold arises from the temporary movement of sterling, due to people purchasing Swiss francs for their holidays, would not it be right and proper to offer to modify the Anglo-Swiss Agreement so that the immediate balance was not taken into account, but purely the final balance over a period of time?
Unfortunately an agreement requires the consent of two parties.
Belgian Exports (Sterling Payments)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the recent decision of the Belgian Government that Belgian exports to certain countries outside the sterling area can be paid for in sterling will, under the terms of the Anglo-Belgian Payments Agreement, entail any loss of gold to this country.
Our present arrangements with Belgium provide for a limited amount of sterling transfers from third countries. These transfers do, of course, add to the amount of the deficit which has to be settled in gold. The arrangements expire on 30th June next.
Can the Chancellor of the Exchequer say whether in all cases this sterling comes from current accounts and not through releases from blocked sterling balances.
It all comes from current trade.
Income Tax (Allowances)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, since many individuals do not understand what claims they are entitled to set against their taxation, he will have printed prominently on each Income Tax notice words drawing attention to the fact that there is at every taxation office an adviser who will advise on what they are entitled to claim in order to reduce their tax where justified.
Every taxpayer is given a simple statement—with both his return form and his coding notice—which explains the allowances and reliefs available to him. Also the return form, the coding notice and the assessment notice invite him to call at the tax office if he wants any information. I do not think any extension of these arrangements is necessary.
While I agree that a great deal of information and explanation is given on the notices, much of which is very difficult to understand, would it not be helpful if there was added to this form a notice reminding the bewildered victim that he has a friend in the tax office who is on his side?
As I have said, he is invited to call at the tax office if he wishes for any elucidation; and in one week after the 5th February, 250,000 persons availed themselves of that invitation.
Why is it that the Scottish notice of assessment contains a form of appeal and the English one does not?
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will put that question on the Order Paper.
Referring to the original reply, will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that if the Opposition had had their way last night nobody would get any information at all.
International Loans And Gifts
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the total amount in gifts and loans Great Britain has received since August, 1945, to date, from other countries; and the total amount in loans and gifts which Great Britain has made to other countries during the same period.
From August, 1945, to date, the United Kingdom has received from other countries gifts and loans to the value of £1,278 million. In addition, E.R.P. aid to the United Kingdom amounted to £275 million up to the 21st May, 1949, and drawing rights exercised by us under the Intra-European Payments Agreement were £7½ million. During the same period the sum of £885 million was made available to other countries by the United Kingdom and drawing rights exercised on us by other countries totalled £41 million.
Having due regard to our financial position, does not my right hon. and learned Friend think that these figures reveal that no nation in the world has been more generous to other countries than has this country, and will he see to it that in future publications what we have done for the world is given equal publicity with what America is supposed to have done on our behalf?
I think that the American people have been extremely generous in their assistance to the world, and we have done our best to help others, too.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear these figures in mind and call attention to them when he and his colleagues draw comparisons between the post-war Government after the first war and the post-war Government after the last war?
Certainly, Sir. We bear everything in mind when we make such comparisons.
Gold Exports (Price)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the amount of gold exported from the sterling area to the United States of America during 1948; and the average amount paid per fine ounce.
I regret that I cannot disclose details of the operations of the Exchange Equalisation Account. All our gold transactions with the United States are on the basis of the official price of 35 dollars per fine ounce.
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether the market price today is not £24 per fine ounce, and will he explain to the House why it is that there is such secrecy over this matter? The amount of gold shipped used to be announced in all publications before the war. It was stopped during the war, but now we are supposed to be at peace why should we not know the truth?
Because it has never been customary to disclose the operations of the Exchange Equalisation Account.
I am not talking about exchange equalisation fund. I am asking a perfectly simple question; what amount of gold is exported from the sterling area? That was always published before the war, and why should not we know now?
I am afraid, as regards the sterling area, we are not in control of the export of gold. I am not responsible for the gold that goes from other parts of the sterling area.
If I put down a Question which my right hon. and learned Friend can answer, will he endeavour to do so?
Prices And Profits
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the failure of the Federation of British Industries and associated organisations to produce any effective plan for price and profit decreases, as requested by him in February of last year he will now announce what steps are to be taken to enforce early reductions of swollen prices and profits
As I told the hon. Member on 22nd February, the request for a voluntary reduction of prices and so of profits was addressed to the country generally. I said that although it was not possible to place any numerical evaluation upon the response to my request I had had evidence of many price reductions resulting from it and of higher costs absorbed into prices without increase. On 24th February I circulated the text of an exchange of letters between the Federation of British Industries, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the National Union of Manufacturers and myself, indicating that industry was prepared to co-operate for one more year in avoiding any general increase in the level of dividends. I do not at present propose to add anything to what I said in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill on 18th May, but I shall, of course, continue to watch the position with keen interest.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer now agrees with me that profits are "frightfully high"—to use his own expression—that they drag up prices with them, and that the Federation of British Industries has done nothing effective whatsoever, does not he think that his strong and vigorous words should now be matched with equally strong and vigorous action?
I am afraid that as I do not agree with the hon. Member's analysis of what I think, I do not agree with what he thinks I should do.
Has the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman been drawn to the statement made yesterday by the Postmaster-General, that a prudent business man when he sees his profits declining should immediately—as has been done with the Post Office—increase the cost to the consumer; and does he agree that that example set by a Government Department is one which a prudent business man outside ought to follow?
It depends very much on the circumstances. If he finds that he is charging very much less than currently is charged for other goods it may be advisable for him to increase his prices.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much was last year put to extra reserve by companies after allowing for taxes.
The figure has already been published in Table 6 of Cmd. 7649.
As the amount reserved for taxation is not available for the reduction of prices, was it not misleading of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the other day to include it in the amount so available?
Of course, it is available for a reduction of prices, because if it had not been earned there would not have been any tax to be paid.
If the Chancellor disagrees with what I said on the last Question, which is also relevant to this Question, would he oblige by reading his Second Reading speech on the Finance Bill last week?
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that his statement that £1,215 million profits were available for price reduction would, in the light of what he has just said, possibly tend to mislead one or two people?
I should have thought not. The whole of these extra profits came out of the prices for which goods were sold. If those prices had been reduced by whatever the sum was, there would have been £1,215 million less profits and, therefore, there would have been £700 million less tax to be paid on the profits. The tax was paid because the profits were earned.
Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us how he would have raised that £700 million if that tax had not been paid?
Had prices been reduced it might not have been necessary to have so disinflationary a Budget.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "By whatever sum prices would have been reduced." No doubt before he made the statement in his speech he had got some estimate as to how much they could have been reduced. Will he now tell the House and the country by how much they could have been reduced?
I have no such estimate and naturally should not have. What I did say was that there was in some cases a surplus which could have been used for price reduction.
If prices had been reduced not only to the extent of eliminating profits, but also to the extent of producing losses, would that have been a good thing in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's opinion?
It is very difficult to say. If the hon. and learned Member will give me an exact instance of what he is thinking, I should be able to answer the question.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be a little more consistent in this matter of profits by backing up his strong views with a little more resolute action?
I consider that taxation up to 60 per cent. of profits is quite resolute action.
How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman apply his peculiar and tortuous argument to Purchase Tax in this connection?
I am afraid that that has nothing to do with the point we are now discussing.
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that he was guilty of making a highly Jesuitical statement?
Adjournment Debates (Mr Speaker's Ruling)
I should be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you could clarify for the House the rule concerning the conduct of Adjournment Debates. On 24th February, as reported at column 2036 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, you stated that you felt that when a particular subject was under discussion it was a great pity to go away from it, but that officially anybody could talk about anything he liked on the half-hour Adjournment provided that it did not involve legislation. On Friday, 20th May, a Ruling was given that the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes):
It was also stated that only matters for which the Minister of Labour was directly responsible could be raised in that Debate. This Ruling confined the Debate very narrowly indeed, and it was clear that there was considerable misunderstanding of the position in all quarters of the House. I feel that some clarification is required as to whether matters for which there is no Minister responsible can or cannot be raised on the half-hour Adjournment."… must relate his remarks to Government or Ministerial responsibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th May, 1949; Vol 465, c. 843.]
The reference which the hon. Member makes to what I said is, of course, rather out of its background, because there I was objecting to an Adjournment Debate being initiated when a Minister was not present in order that one might be initiated for which a Minister was present. Therefore, Ministerial responsibility had very much to do with that point. As regards what was ruled by Mr. Deputy-Speaker on Friday, he was perfectly correct in what he said. That has my full approval. Perhaps now I might clarify the situation by giving this Ruling.The rule against debating matters on the Adjournment which involved no Ministerial responsibility is a particular application of the general rule of relevancy which is fundamental to our proceedings. The old practice of the House still remains that on substantive Motions there is practically no limit to the subjects which can be debated—on substantive Motions. But Debate on the Adjournment is governed by two rules that bar the discussion of matters involving legislation and matters for which no Minister is responsible. The considerable increase in recent years of Debates on the Adjournment has naturally produced a number of instances where decisions on this subject have had to be given by the Chair. These have been consistent in maintaining the rule, though considerable latitude has been exercised on occasions in the past. But where discretion has been so exercised a tendency to irregular Debate has developed. Such a course if followed frequently tends to impair the value of Adjournment Debates in raising grievances for remedy by administrative action. On 31st January, 1940, Mr. Speaker FitzRoy said:
In the next two columns he further clarified the point. Similar Rulings were given on 28th April, 1944, at columns 1161 and 1166, and on 14th October, 1946, at column 752. On 10th December, 1946, at columns 991–2, I gave another Ruling to the same effect, which I had prepared after giving careful consideration to the matter."There is a very sound rule in this House that questions for which the Government have no responsibility cannot be raised on the Adjournment, and I think the House will realise that once we depart from this rule, it might lead to dangerous courses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1940; Vol. 356, c. 1228.]
Thank you very much, Sir, for giving that Ruling and clarifying the position. I think you will appreciate that that Ruling limits very narrowly indeed the number of occasions when subjects for which no Minister is responsible can be raised in this House. I do not know whether at some future occasion it would be possible to suggest how those occasions might be increased. On Friday the Minister of Labour did in fact accept responsibility at an early stage in the Debate for the subject which was being raised. I wonder whether it would be possible on those occasions which are marginal cases where there is a dispute, that guidance could be given by the Chair after having ascertained in advance exactly what the scope of the Debate is. In those circumstances, I think it would help the House.
Last Friday's Adjournment Debate arose from a Question which I asked the Minister of Labour on 3rd May about whether he would come to a general agreement with firms on a particular matter. The Minister replied on that occasion:
That is, he would not take steps to come to a general agreement. That was interpreted by the Chair last Friday as meaning that the Minister had no responsibility. I think on consideration, Sir, you will realise the difference between a statement by a Minister that he is not taking, or does not intend to take, certain action, and a Ministerial disclaimer of responsibility. I trust that the former will not rule out further discussion on the question.No, Sir."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 802.]
It is very difficult for the Chair to know what a Minister is going to say. Very often it would be a great help if the Minister would get up and say exactly where his responsibility lay. I do not think that it is possible for the Chair to give a Ruling in advance. He must let the subject come before the House and then, if it is out of Order, it is very difficult not to say that it is out of Order. I am bound to say that the occupant of the Chair last Friday obeyed the rule very well indeed.
I agree entirely with what you have been saying, Mr. Speaker, as far as we can follow this rather difficult discussion. On the other hand, if a Minister takes responsibility by answering a Question then clearly that responsibility cannot later be divorced, can it?