House Of Commons
Monday, 30th May, 1949
The House met at Half-past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Death Of A Member
I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Thomas William Stamford, Esquire, Member for the Borough of Leeds, West Division, and I desire on behalf of the House to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the honourable Member.
British Transport Commission Bill
As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.
Falmouth Docks Bill Lords
Read a Second time, and committed.
Huddersfield Corporation Bill Lords
Read a Second time, and committed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Port Facilities, River Tees
asked the Minister of Transport when he expects that the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive will report to him on the priority that should be given to steel allocation for the new deep-water quay in the River Tees; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Minister of Transport if he has yet received the report of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive on the allocation of steel for the construction of the deep-water quay at Middlesbrough; and if he will make a statement.
As the result of a recommendation by the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, dealing with port facilities in the Tees area, the British Transport Commission have asked them to proceed with the preparation of a scheme under Section 66 of the Transport Act. The purpose of the scheme will be to ensure, by unified control, the best possible use of existing facilities, and to enable the problem of future development to be considered against the wider background of the port as a whole, without the complications attendant on divided ownership and responsibility.In these circumstances and having regard to the continuing need to limit capital investment, the proposal to provide new berths in the River Tees has been considered in relation to other projects and, in accordance with the Executive's recommendation, I am not prepared to authorise the commencement of this work at present.
In view of the deep anxiety which exists on Teesside about the lack of progress of this scheme and of the fact that there is something like £40 million or £50 million worth of development in this area, will my right hon. Friend look at this matter again in a more favourable light?
As my hon. Friend knows: this has occupied a good deal of my attention and I have considered it very fully, but, as I have indicated in my reply, in relation to other projects, especially port projects, throughout the country, I regret that I cannot reconsider the decision.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what projects can possibly be more important than this one to Middlesbrough?
Not in rely to a supplementary question.
asked the Minister of Transport what was the amount of pilferage on the railways in 1938, 1946 and 1947, respectively.
Separate figures for pilferage are not available, but the amounts paid by the railway companies in respect of claims for articles lost or stolen in 1938, 1946 and 1947, were, respectively. £180,462, £2,441,023 and £2,671,383.
Is the Minister able to confirm that the figure for last year is even more disastrous than for 1947, and will he say what the Railway Executive are doing to save this wholesale loss?
As the hon. Member knows, last year is a matter for the British Transport Commission, but figures have been got out and I have arranged for them to be forwarded to the hon. Member.
Pedestrian Crossings (Regulations)
asked the Minister of Transport when he proposes to lay before Parliament the new regulations which will finally clarify the rights and duties of motor traffic and pedestrians in the use of authorised road crossings.
New regulations relating to pedestrian crossing places have been drafted and I am about to consult interested organisations on them. I hope to lay the regulations as soon as this consultation has been completed.
Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that conditions are still chaotic, and that with the increased number of summer visitors to London the more speedily these regulations can be made operative the better for the prevention of deaths on the roads?
The hon. and gallant Member is aware that there is a statutory obligation upon the Minister to consult various organisations. I find that that takes a little time.
asked the Minister of Transport whether he has any information as to the effects of the special pedestrian traffic week from 3rd to 9th April last; and whether there has been any substantial fall in the number of road accidents as a result.
I cannot at present add much to the reply given to the hon. and gallant Member for Glasgow, Central (Colonel Hutchison) on 11th April. The improvement in the behaviour of road users noted during the week will, I hope, be maintained. I cannot yet answer the last part of the Question, since detailed analysis of the accident figures for April has not yet been completed.
asked the Minister of Transport whether he will state the number of accidents during the three years. 1946, 1947 and 1948, caused by the colliding of motor vehicles with cattle straying on to the highway; and whether, in view of the increase in fast moving road traffic, he will consider legislation placing a legal obligation on the owner of land abutting on to the highway to maintain hedges or fences so as to prevent his animals from straying on to the highway.
I regret that this information is not available. A system of detailed road accident statistics was started on 1st January last which will enable such particulars to be extracted and examined. On the present evidence I do not feel justified in considering so far-reaching a measure as that suggested by my hon. Friend.
Will my right hon. Friend consult the Attorney-General to see whether something cannot be done in this direction to remove this anachronism, which entitles owners of land abutting the highway to be negligent and cause injury to other people through their animals straying, particularly at night?
I have no objection to consulting my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, but this is a very far-reaching proposal.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that if he consults the Attorney-General on the matter he may discover that the proposed change in the law, so far from being a far-reaching matter of policy, is a very simple and long overdue reform, and that he may then be able to answer the Question a little more favourably?
For the moment we will share that hope together.
Highway Code (Pedestrians)
asked the Minister of Transport whether, in view of the fact that it was usual before the introduction of the Highway Code for the public to walk on the right side of the pavement and that the recommendation in the Highway Code was that the left side should be used, he will publicise the wishes of the authorities as expressed in the Highway Code, which is not generally read by pedestrians.
The Highway Code does not go quite so far as suggested by my hon. Friend, but advises against walking alongside the kerb in the same direction as the nearer stream of traffic. I will consider whether anything can usefully be done to make this advice more generally known.
Will the Minister agree that the best advice which he can give to the people will be to keep well to the left during the next 12 or 13 months?
Ministry Of Supply
Royal Ordnance Factories
asked the Minister of Supply in how many Royal Ordnance factories schemes for sick leave with full pay have been started; and what has been the rate of absenteeism subsequently as compared with the previous rate.
|Per cent.||Per cent.||Per cent.||Per cent.||Per cent.||Per cent.|
asked the Minister of Supply why the labour cost in the production in Royal Ordnance factories of electrical ceramics, mining machinery and oilfield equipment in 1947–48 was, respectively, 105 per cent., 82 per cent. and 72 per cent. above the estimate.
The Royal Ordnance factories undertook this work to meet acute shortages of supplies in this country. The type of production was a specialised one, of which they had had no previous experience.
Does the Minister appreciate that the Auditor-General called attention to these figures in his recent report, and does he think that a private
As the answer contains a number of figures I will, with the hon. and gallant Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
Is the Minister aware that since the scheme was brought in at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Pontypool the absenteeism on sick leave has risen from 3 per cent. to 17 per cent., and does he think that we can afford that sort of thing at the present time?
I have not the individual figures for the Royal Ordnance Factories.
Following is the answer:
The scheme for paid sick leave for Government industrial employees applies to all Royal Ordnance factories and came into operation in September, 1948. The following table shows the percentage of working days lost by industrial employees of the Royal Ordnance factories on account of absence covered by medical certificate in each of the eight months following the introduction of the scheme, with comparable figures for the preceding five years:
business would get very far on that kind of estimating?
These are special jobs, usually for short runs, carried out in order to remove some acute shortage which has been holding up some export or other, and the Ordnance factories have not been making these goods under ordinary commercial conditions.
Official Car Service
asked the Minister of Supply how many of the 37 new cars purchased for the official car service this year are for the purpose of replacing old cars; what mileages have these old cars completed; and how they are being disposed of.
Twenty-six. Twenty-three of the cars being replaced had been previously used by the Services and there is no record of their total mileage. The remaining three, which are 10 h.p. models, have each completed about 50,000 miles. The old cars which cannot be repaired economically for reissue to Government Departments will be sold by auction.
Does not the answer show that the service is still expanding quite unnecessarily, and that old cars are being disposed of before they have done a proper mileage?
I do not think that it shows anything of the sort.
Can the Minister say why it is not possible to show what mileage a Service vehicle has done? That is something new.
Apparently their mileages are not all recorded, or the speedometers are faulty.
asked the Minister of Supply what approximate period of time elapses between his placing an order for a new car for the official car service and its receipt by him from the makers.
New cars for the official car service are included in orders placed by the Ministry of Supply for cars for all Government Departments. First delivery begins about six months after the placing of an order and it takes from nine to 18 months to complete the order.
Is it not the case that in view of the short time that elapses, namely, only six months, the Minister of Supply is able to secure a considerable priority through his influence over steel allocations?
No, there is no truth at all in that statement.
asked the Minister of Supply whether, having regard to the obsolescence of much of the printing-plant in this country, and the consequent disadvantage at which British trade and technical journals are placed in competition with similar periodicals published overseas, he will permit the retention in this country of sufficient printing-plant to replace machinery no longer capable of high-standard production.
During the last six months more printing machinery has been available to the home market, owing to increased production. My Department is at present reviewing the distribution, in consultation with the Board of Trade, to see what further help can be given to British printers.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise what valuable ambassadors trade journals of this kind can be, if properly produced, and that they will not fulfil that function if they are not properly produced?
Palace Of Westminster (Lighting)
asked the Minister of Works whether the specialist committee which was asked to consider the lighting in the Commons Chamber has yet reported.
Yes. The specialists consider that the lighting could be improved by using pendant diffusers. I propose to fit some of these as an experiment, provided the authorities concerned agree.
asked the Minister of Works why since lighting restrictions in the streets have been relaxed, it has not been possible more satisfactorily to light the corridors and lobbies in the Palace of Westminster; and in particular why the main chandelier in the Central Lobby is not used.
I am making such improvements in the lighting of the corridors and lobbies as can be effected having regard to the financial provision for the year. The main chandelier in the Central Lobby cannot be used until a new switchboard has been installed. This switchboard will be provided for the new Chamber.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would agree that it would be possible to make this House a little less like a morgue in the morning without placing any undue financial strain upon the Exchequer?
I am going to the limit of the Estimate which has been granted; I cannot go beyond it.
Hospital Car Service
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what amount of petrol was granted for hospital car service throughout the country for the first quarter of 1949 compared with the first quarter of 1948.
The amount of petrol granted to the hospital car service throughout the United Kingdom during the first quarter of 1949 was 225,026 gallons as compared with 76,491 gallons for the corresponding period of 1948.
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in view of the inadequacy of the existing petrol allowance to many domiciliary midwives, he will issue instructions to all regional petroleum officers that special consideration should be given to all such applications for petrol.
Regional petroleum officers have standing instructions to meet in full the reasonable requirements of all certified midwives. If the hon. Member knows of any midwife who is not able to obtain enough petrol for her work, I shall be glad to look into the case.
Will the right hon. Gentleman not only look into individual cases, but into the general policy? Is he aware that even those midwives who are lucky enough to have cars are seriously handicapped in their work by the inadequacy of the petrol allowance which they are granted?
No, there is no evidence whatever to that effect, but, as I say, if the hon. Member has an individual case in mind, I will certainly look into it.
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he has received a report on the successful working of a drift mine at Oakwood Grange, Cossall; and whether he can make a statement on the possibility in certain areas of obtaining coal which is near the surface by drift mining instead of by opencast methods.
No, Sir, not on this particular drift mine. But a number of drift mines are of course being operated at present and I have in fact visited some of them. As regards the second part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the evidence given by the National Coal Board to the Select Committee on Estimates on the production and marketing of opencast coal, which made it clear that the Board were already developing drift mines to the greatest extent possible. There is full consultation between my Ministry and the National Coal Board before any decision to extract coal by opencast working is taken and if the Board indicate that drift mining might be appropriate, this alternative is fully considered. My hon. Friend will however appreciate that the coal is extracted much more quickly and in larger quantities by opencast methods, since in drift mining a certain amount of coal near the surface has to be left unworked.
Will the Minister consider the possibility of substituting drift mining for opencast mining at Greasley in Nottinghamshire when the matter comes before him for consideration, as the people there are greatly opposed to their amenities being destroyed by the latter method?
I will certainly look into that question.
Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that it is not only a matter of amenity but the serious and permanent waste of good agricultural land, and that if drift mining could be substituted we should retain the agricultural land and presumably get the coal as well?
In the recent Debate I dealt fully with this matter. Some of the agricultural experts who appeared before the Select Committee on Estimates were more opposed to drift mining than to opencast mining from the point of view of restoring the land for agricultural use.
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware of the shortage of bunkers; that this shortage is delaying the turn-round of vessels in United Kingdom ports; and whether he will take immediate action to rectify this matter.
Although shipments for foreign bunkers at United Kingdom ports and for coaling stations abroad have been about 20,000 tons more this year than in the corresponding period of last year, I understand there have been a few cases of delay due to a number of vessels requiring bunkers at the same time. The National Coal Board are doing everything possible to overcome these difficulties.
Divorce Decrees (Registration)
asked the Attorney-General whether His Majesty's Government are prepared to accept the Denning Committee's recommendation that a register of all decrees of divorce and nullity should be kept at the principal registry in London, and with the Registrar of Marriages.
A register of all decrees, whether made in London or the provinces, is in fact kept at the Principal Divorce Registry. I do not think that the utility of requiring decrees to be noted in marriage registers by superintendent registrars would be in any way commensurate with the expense and labour involved.
Extra Rations (Agricultural Workers)
asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction caused by the discrimination between the agricultural worker and the agricultural smallholder in respect of extra rations; and whether he will extend to the latter category the extra rations already allowed to the former.
Allowances for seasonal farming operations are already available to smallholders and agricultural workers alike. We are unable to extend the special cheese ration to self-employed workers since, as a general rule, they are able to make arrangements for obtaining a midday meal.
asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, although under form S.A.4 (AG) farm workers are allowed extra seasonal allowances for the hoeing and singling of roots, extra rations have been refused to men who are hoeing kale in the same field; and whether, in view of the fact that the jobs are identical, he will take immediate steps to put an end to this anomaly.
The farming operations for which seasonal allowances are given were selected after consultation with the Advisory Committee of the Trades Union Congress, and we do not propose to add to the list.
May I ask the right hon. Lady if she is not aware that this is further evidence of want of co-operation between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture? Is she further aware that the situation was described to me by a farmer who said, "Don't worry, Waldron, this is the last bit of Socialist folly of Comrade John and our Edith."
The right hon. Lady says she will not reconsider the matter. Will not she put the question again to the unions because it is clear to all of us who live in the country districts there is an anomaly here which ought to be seen into?
I recognise that there is an anomaly here and I do not deny it.
Then why not do something?
The right hon. Gentleman must realise that we have to draw the line somewhere, and I think he would agree that the Advisory Committee of the Trade Union Congress does take everything into consideration.
Does the right hon. Lady realise that there are a great number of people living in the country who also take these things into consideration and have views which ought to be considered, too?
Is not this further proof that the T.U.C. are masters of this country?
asked the Minister of Food what are the ingredients of imitation honey; and what is its value as food in comparison with that of real honey.
The principal ingredient of imitation honey is invert sugar—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]—invert sugar. It sometimes contains other forms of sugar and may be flavoured, for example, with natural honey. There is no appreciable difference between the food values of imitation honey and natural honey.
How does one recognise the inversion of this imitation honey?
Invert sugar is the result of breaking up the sucrose with acid. It is a mixture of glucose and fructose.
Can the right hon. Lady say whether there is any difference in taste between real honey and imitation honey?
Was not the recipe of this honey fully described in "Let us Face the Future"?
asked the Minister of Food whether he will now define his policy in relation to the export of confectionery to countries with which Britain has a favourable balance of trade with special reference to the urgent and increasing home demand.
Exports of chocolate and sugar confectionery in 1949 to countries with which we have a favourable balance of trade will not exceed the limited amounts exported to them in 1948. Our object is to retain our connection with these markets, principally in Commonwealth countries and Colonial possessions.
Does not the Minister fully realise the urgent need to give an additional allocation at home? It is no use derationing without giving a proper allocation. Why not ensure that there is a proper allocation? It would work if only the right hon. Lady gave an adequate quantity.
The hon. Member should have thought of that before he pressed for derationing.
I will press the right hon. Lady now, and keep on pressing.
Fish (Foreign Landings)
asked the Minister of Food what steps he is taking to deal with a recurrence of the recent loss sustained by British fishermen when large catches were unsaleable for edible purposes owing to large scale foreign landings.
I presume the hon. Member is referring to the loss incurred during the week ended 21st May, when 825 tons of edible white fish were sent to the meal works at the four largest ports, out of 19,500 tons landed. In the light of these figures I cannot accept the implication that foreign landings are causing large losses.
Is it not also a fact that much of the fish landed fetches a very poor price; and what is the sense in sending out ships and using coal, men and ships to bring back nothing of value and at the same time paying foreign currency for landings elsewhere?
The hon. Member must realise that the general demand for fish is very good, but we cannot equate supply to demand every day.
Would not this problem disappear if the Ministry of Food refused to accept fish collected all round the coast of Iceland and brought here in cargo vessels? Why does not the Ministry insist on the same procedure with our fish as with fish bought for Germany, that is, that it goes on the actual catching trawler direct from the grounds to the port of Hamburg?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, if there is congestion at certain ports we are allowed to suspend landings.
Evw Camps (Meat Ration)
asked the Minister of Food how many British subjects are living in European voluntary workers camps in England and Wales, and are in receipt of the full meat ration; and how many of them are doing work that entitles European voluntary workers to this ration.
Ninety-two thousand, two hundred workers, of whom 51,700 are foreign, are living in industrial or agricultural camps and hostels and get the allowances of food on either the industrial "A" or "B" scales.
Will the right hon. Lady say what steps are taken to ensure that unauthorised persons do not get an extra meat ration, because there is great resentment at this in rural areas?
The only answer I can give is that we have very responsible men in charge who are there for the purpose of preventing it from happening.
Is there any check periodically?
The men are there to check it.
asked the Minister of Food if he is now in position to make a statement on the termination of the carrot control.
No, Sir, I am not in a position to make a statement on the final termination of carrot control, but so far as the 1949 crop is concerned my right hon. Friend does not propose to control the price until the 1st November, and will not re-introduce licensing of traders.
Would the right hon. Lady consider retaining enough carrots to dangle in front of the electorate at the next Election?
Imported Fruit (Allocations)
asked the Minister of Food what proposals he has for providing wholesalers who started business since 1939 with allocations of fruits imported and controlled by his Department.
I am sorry that I am not at present in a position to add anything to the reply on this subject given by my right hon. Friend on 2nd March.
Could my right hon. Friend say whether the difficulty is technical, since this change is so desirable; and could not she decide on one of the two most favoured schemes put forward, so that this very desirable objective can be achieved?
There are wider issues. We are considering the de-control of citrus fruit.
Arab Refugees (Relief Fund)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what contributions have been made up to date by Member States of the United Nations and by Israel for the relief of the 900,000 Arabs forced out of Palestine.
I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT an extract from a United Nations report showing the estimated value of donations by Governments to the Mediator's first relief project and to the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees, which was later established, up to the date of 5th March. The United Kingdom contribution to the Mediator's scheme represented almost a quarter of the total governmental contributions up to that date, while the United Kingdom contribution to the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees was more than one half of the total contributions at that date. Since then the United States Congress has authorised the provision of 16 million dollars for this work, half of which has become available. Israel has not subscribed.
Could the Minister say to what extent funds now available are adequate for the purpose intended for relieving distress?
The fund's average disbursements on the existing scale will carry the work of relief on until approximately November of this year.
May I ask whether it is the case that this matter is under discussion between the nations concerned before the United Nations Conciliation Committee? May I further ask whether we may take it that in his answer the Minister was not intending to accept the statement either that they were forced out of Palestine or that the numbers amounted to 900,000?
I did not see any point in commenting on the circumstances in which the refugees had come out. I should like to say to my hon. Friend that, although there is some minor doubt about the exact figure, I have recently most carefully checked the figure and it is as near 900,000 as makes no difference.
Can the Minister of State say whether the Israel authorities have yet paid any compensation on account of the orangeries and vineyards that have been seized?
|ESTIMATED VALUE OF DONATIONS PLEDGED TO MEDIATOR AND DELIVERY STATUS OF DONATIONS|
|(5th March, 1949: In U.S. Dollars)|
|(10 per cent. allowance for freight unless otherwise indicated)|
|Source||Total Pledged to Mediator||Believed Delivered Before 1st January, 1949||Delivered After 1st January, 1949||En Route||Total Delivered or En Route||Balance to be Forwarded|
|Union of South Africa||…||78,811||47,762||—||31,049||78,811||—|
No, but I want to say quite fairly that that does not arise out of this Question.
Would my right hon. Friend answer that part of my supplementary which asked whether all these matters, including the one just put, are now in negotiation between the Arab countries and Israel?
Naturally, Sir, I am most anxious to avoid commenting at all upon the negotiations which are at present going on between these Governments under the auspices of the United Nations Commission.
Is it not a fact that the most effective form of relief would be a rehabilitation of these people in their own homes, and what steps are being taken by the Government to speed this on?
Following is the extract:
|ESTIMATED VALUE OF CASH AND COMMODITY DONATIONS TO U.N.R.P.R.|
|(5th March, 1949: In U.S. Dollars)|
|Source||Donations||Received||En Route||Balance to be Forwarded|
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is now in a position to make a statement on His Majesty's Government's attitude to the payment of reparations by Japan; and to what extent he has consulted the other members of the British Commonwealth on this subject.
The recent United States proposals on Japanese reparations are still being studied and we are seeking clarification of a number of obscure points. We are naturally in touch with interested Commonwealth Governments on this subject.
Can the Minister of State give any idea when he will be able to make a definite statement on the matter; and does he not think that it would have been much wiser if, before the Americans published this statement, some arrangement or agreement had been made between the British and American Governments?
The Government of the United States, as the hon. Gentleman knows, quite clearly had power to issue interim directives in certain circumstances, and they exerted this power. As to the first part of the question, I should hope that quite soon we shall be able to make a full statement.
Austria (British Visitors)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware of the hardship caused to persons of small means desirous of visiting relatives in Austria by the present financial condition imposed before a tourist card is issued; and whether he will take steps to have this condition waived where private hospitality is offered by relatives.
The condition that a tourist card involving payment of 8s. 4d. for each day of stay in Austria must be obtained by visitors to Austria who have not booked accommodation at a tourist hotel was made by the Austrian Government. Seven shillings and sixpence of the 8s. 4d. is recoverable in Austrian currency. Military permit officers are authorised at their discretion to issue permits in compassionate cases of urgency without the production of these cards. It is also understood that the Austrian Legation in London will give special consideration to exceptional cases of hardship.
Shanghai (British Assets)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what information he has received as to the forcible acquisition or destruction of British assets in Shanghai; and what action he has taken to safeguard them.
I am glad to say that reports so far received, whch are of course necessarily preliminary, do not indicate that any British assets have been forcibly acquired or seriously damaged by either side. As regards the second part of the Question, His Majesty's Consul-General has been in contact with both sides with a view to safeguarding British lives and property.
Is the Minister of State aware that the Consul-General is reported as having said that certain of our ships were seized at Shanghai, and can he say whether that, in view of his answer, was an incorrect report?
I have seen a Press statement, but on the official information available to us as late as last night, my statement covers the situation.
Is it not the case that forcible possession was taken of British property by the Kuomintang forces and that the British people resident there welcomed the liberating forces who cleared up the Kuomintang forces? Is not that the case?
I saw a report to which no doubt the hon. Gentleman is referring. I find it in conflict with the official information available to us from the Consul-General.
Will the right hon. Gentleman express the thanks of all concerned to the British Consul-General for the way in which he has carried out his duties in Shanghai?
Czechoslovakia (Nationalisation Laws)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs since the nationalisation laws passed by the Czechoslovak Government conflict with their obligations under the Anglo-Czechoslovakian Agreement dated 1st November, 1945, Command Paper No. 6695, what representations have been made to the Czechoslovakian Government on this matter.
The Agreement, to which the hon. and gallant Member refers, applies to money and property which were subjected to special measures in consequence of the enemy occupation of Czechoslovakia. It cannot clearly be held to debar the application of general nationalisation measures, as such, to the property of British subjects. The hon. and gallant Member will, however, be aware that negotiations have already been begun regarding the payment of effective compensation to British subjects for nationalised property and they are to be resumed shortly in connection with the forthcoming commercial discussions.
Can it be taken from that answer that His Majesty's Government will not allow Section 5, which allows firms to repudiate any debts or obligations which might harm them, to stand in the way of securing fair and adequate compensation for all British assets in Czechoslovakia?
We have already drawn attention to the impropriety of repudiating certain claims against property and we shall not yield upon that point.
Would the Minister consider putting me on the body responsible for deciding what is fair and adequate compensation?
I can imagine some other subjects and some other bodies to which I should be glad to address the hon. Gentleman.
Roumania (British Assets)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any further statement to make as to the action taken by His Majesty's Government to ensure proper compensation for British assets taken over by the Roumanian Government.
On 7th September, 1948, and again on 18th March last. His Majesty's Government informed the Roumanian Government that they could not recognise the validity of Roumanian legislation regarding nationalisation since it amounted to confiscation. Lacking any indication that their representations on this matter would be considered, His Majesty's Government informed the Roumanian Government in their second communication that they reserved all rights on behalf of British nationals with respect to the seizure of their properties and held the Roumanian Government responsible for the return of the properties or for prompt payment of adequate and effective compensation.
While His Majesty's Government may have retained their position, particularly in view of such big assets as Astra-Romano, can the Minister of State say what further action he means to take to ensure that something is done, rather than merely reserving his position?
Germany (Shipbuilding And Engineering)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps are being taken in Germany to stop firms engaged in shipbuilding and engineering from underselling their British counterparts in the world's markets.
As it has been made plain on a number of previous occasions, His Majesty's Government as an occupying Power have no cause for complaint if German exporters are able to compete with British and other exporters on an equal footing, provided that no unfair practices are indulged in. As regards shipbuilding and engineering, my information is that no cases of reported unfair trade practices have been substantiated. The indications are that costs of production in German shipyards are in general no lower than those of British shipyards.
But is not my right hon. Friend aware that the number of workers in these industries who are enrolled in trade unions is comparatively small and, because that is so, they are open to exploitation as cheap labour, and that that is what is going on to quite a considerable extent?
If my hon. Friend has any information I shall be most glad to have it investigated, but I must reiterate that the few cases which have been brought to our notice have not borne that interpretation when examined.
Can the right hon. Gentleman inform the House to what extent the Germans are being permitted to indulge in shipbuilding?
Under the occupation conditions the Germans are not permitted, except with permission, to build for ocean-going use. I understand, however, that for export purposes they are building some inland waterways craft at present.
As the Control Commission staff is reduced, in conformity with general policy, will a nucleus be left behind sufficient to ensure that the Germans do not go in for secret or open subsidy in shipbuilding?
Perhaps the noble Lord would give me notice of that question.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what instructions have been given to the British representative on the Security Council of the United Nations as to the attitude he is to take up on the recent agreement made between the Dutch and the Republicans in Indonesia.
As the House knows, the Netherlands and Republican Delegations to the recent discussions convened in Batavia by the United Nations Commission for Indonesia, reached agreement on 7th May on the re-establishment of the Republican Government in Djocjakarta. The Republican leaders agreed to press for the issue of a cease-fire order to Republican troops as soon as possible after the Republican Government had been reinstated at Djocjakarta, and for attendance of Republican representatives at a Round Table Conference at The Hague to discuss arrangements for the transfer of sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia. His Majesty's Government warmly welcome this agreement, which has been achieved in a fine spirit of good will and compromise on both sides, and hope that it may lead to an early and final settlement of the Indonesian question. For the time being, therefore, there is no necessity to issue any further instructions to the United Kingdom representative on the Security Council.
Has my right hon. Friend received any indication when the Republican Government will be established in Djocjakarta?
There is no restriction. It is only a matter of convenience, and both sides are handling the matter apparently to suit their own convenience.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty how many of the crew of H.M.S. "Amethyst" are still missing.
All officers and men serving in H.M.S. "Amethyst" at the time she was shelled on 20th April have now been accounted for. The House will also be interested to hear that two ratings who were in a China Mission Hospital which was subsequently taken over by the Communists have now returned to their ship. They have been well treated and are fully recovered from their wounds.
Will the Minister renew his assurance to keep the House fully informed if any new situation arises in connection with the position of the "Amethyst" or regarding the safety of the officers and men who remain on board?
Yes, Sir; most certainly.
They are in good hands.
When will the Minister be in a position to circulate much more detailed information concerning the deaths of the people on the "Amethyst" to the next-of-kin and relatives, who are anxious to know what happened?
As soon as possible, but I cannot say when that will be. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will put a Question down, I shall be glad to answer it.
May I ask my hon. Friend what is the position regarding the future of the "Amethyst," the condition of the remainder of the crew on board, and whether safe-conduct negotiations have been entered into with the Communist authorities with a view to returning the remainder of the crew to Hong Kong or some other British station?
The crew are perfectly all right. I would prefer to answer other Questions at a later date. I think it would make it easier for the men concerned if I postponed answering further questions.
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether in view of the urgency of supplementing the present meat ration with pork he will forthwith increase the present farrowing sow allowance from 8 to 12 cwt. in order that the breeder of pigs may have sufficient food to feed on the young pigs to an age of 16 weeks.
No, Sir. The needs of breeders of pigs were fully considered before the Government decided upon the increases in pig rations that my right hon. Friend announced on 19th May.
How does the Minister expect to increase the pig population if he does not do something more than has already been done? Surely, it is important to secure an increase in the pig population if there is a shortage of food? I do not understand it.
The answer to the second supplementary question is that, of course, it is an important matter. The answer to the first part is that I expect it to be done by the farmers themselves becoming more self-sufficient and growing more home grown foodstuffs to supplement what we give them now.
Surely, the hon. Gentleman realises that it is impossible to expect farmers to increase their production of home-grown feedingstuffs when they are trying to increase the production of good, wholesome food for this country?
The hon. Gentleman is mixing up two unrelated things. It is quite shocking for him to say that his local farmers cannot grow more foodstuffs and become more self-sufficient.
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the harvest is several months away yet?
Calcium Carbide (Price)
asked the President of the Board of Trade why the price of calcium carbide produced by a Government-owned plant in South Wales and imported by the Government has been increased by £2 15s. per 1,000 kilos.
The price of carbide was increased on 1st April last to bring it into line with current costs of production.
Is not this the second increase in the price of Government-produced and Government-imported carbide? Has there not been an increase in the price of that carbide of £4 10s. per 1,000 kilos? Has there not, since June, 1948, been no increase in the cost of carbide produced by private enterprise. Does not this increase in Government-produced and Government-imported carbide lead to increases in the cost of manufacture, and is it not another instance of Government enterprise leading to increased costs to the consumers?
Is it not the case that factories producing carbide under private enterprise have not had to increase their costs?
I could not answer that question without notice.
Will the hon. Gentleman look into this matter again to see if the Government have put up the price as against privately owned factories? There must be some reason for it, and may we have that reason? If the Minister does not know it, will he find out?
It is commonly appreciated, in cases of this kind, that it is the business of the Government to cover their costs of production, and that is the answer to the question.
Why has the cost of production in Government factories gone up like this, when factories under private enterprise can produce at a lower cost? What is the answer?
If privately owned factories are in fact producing cheaper than the Government, are not buyers at liberty to buy at the cheaper cost, and would not that solve it?
Government Departments (Petrol Duty)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what excise duty is paid by Government departments on purchases of petrol for their own use.
Ninepence a gallon. I assume the hon. Member refers to Customs duty.
In all Departments?
Smallpox Outbreak, Liskeard
asked the Minister of Health if he can now make any reassuring statement about the recent occurrence of smallpox at Liskeard.
Yes, Sir. I am glad to assure the hon. Member that, as I am advised, there is now no reason to fear any further risk of infection in the locality from this occurrence: and to inform the House that it is now thought most unlikely that the recent incursion of ship-borne smallpox will give rise to any more cases.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this statement will be very welcome news to a great number of people, and may I ask him if he would see to it that proper publicity is given in the national papers that Liskeard is now "All clear"?
We certainly hope that full publicity will be given to this Question and answer.
Gerhardt Eisler (Court Decision)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he can now make a further statement on the case of Gerhardt Eisler.
At Bow Street Court on 27th May the Chief Magistrate found that the requisitioning power had failed to show that Gerhardt Eisler had been convicted in the United States of America of an extraditable offence and discharged him.On the same day, Mr. Eisler applied at the Home Office for a form of application for a document of identity to enable him to obtain a visa for his journey to Poland. His application form was lodged today and he has been given the document and informed that he may remain in this country for the time necessary to enable him to make arrangements for his journey.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision in this case may well serve as an object-lesson to countries in both halves of the world which do not share our views on the rule of law, and can he say whether the matter is now definitely closed at the American end, or whether he has received any further representations? Can he also say what is the position about compensation?
I am not responsible for the conduct of American affairs. I have had no communication from the American Embassy or any other American source since the decision of the Chief Magistrate. There is no justifiable claim for compensation against this country.
Can my right hon. Friend assure us that, if Mr. Eisler goes to Germany, there will be no possibility of his being apprehended again by the American authorities?
I can give no guarantee that extends beyond the three-mile limit.
Will the right hon. Gentleman repudiate the suggestion of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) that any charge, imputation or insinuation whatever lies against the United States in this matter?
No, Sir. I heard the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, and it did not seem to me to call for any comment.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in view of the circumstances that have been disclosed in this incident, he will review the regulations under which extradition orders can be granted and carried out in this country?
No, Sir. This matter proceeded according to law and that would require an amendment of the law. May I say that I think that it is better that these matters should be dealt with by a decision of the court than by the ukase of the Minister.
Will the Home Secretary bear in mind the suggestion made by the learned magistrate that those responsible should consider whether Mr. Eisler was entitled to any compensation for the inconvenience he suffered, and say what steps he proposes to take in regard to that?
I hope that those responsible will consider the learned magistrate's remarks.
Is it not the case that this man was forcibly dragged off a Polish ship, kept in prison for three weeks—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I would like some hon. Members kept in prison for three weeks to see how they would feel—and that it was then discovered that there was no charge which could be laid against him? Is there not something wrong with the law there?
No, Sir. A certain statement was made on the information laid before the Southampton magistrate and from that time the law took its course.
Is it not, nevertheless, now perfectly clear that on the facts, nobody properly advised could ever have come to the conclusion that this application for extradition had any basis whatever or had any possible chance of success; and is it not a little unfortunate that, in circumstances of that kind, a man should be taken off a foreign ship and detained in one of our gaols for three weeks?
The information was laid before the magistrate and the responsibility for the statement in that information lay with the person who made it.
Will the Home Secretary make it perfectly clear that the release of this man was a simple question of British law and justice, and not in any way connected with the emotional outpourings of the extreme Left in this country?
I am bound to say that I think that supplementary questions like that are not very helpful. I have made it clear that this matter has proceeded by due course of law and that no other influence has been brought to bear upon it.
Railway Strike, North Eastern Region
(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any statement to make about the strike on the British Railways in the North-Eastern Region.
I regret to say that long-distance traffic was again seriously dislocated as a result of this strike yesterday, despite the fact that the strike is condemned by the two unions concerned. I understand that the Railway Executive are proposing to discuss the matter again with the trade unions.I make no comment upon the merits or demerits of the point in dispute, but I must comment on the method adopted to deal with it. In their highly responsible and normal daily service a danger signal is an indication that there is trouble ahead, and railway men wisely proceed with caution and stop if the signal remains at danger. The present method of attempting to solve a difference is a danger signal. The dangers ahead are: inconvenience to the public, damage to industrial collective bargaining, repudiation of trade union responsibility, and disservice to the nation at a time when co-operation from all engaged in industry and distribution is vital to national economic recovery. I urge those who have been led into this irresponsible action to abandon this method, to let reason and argument take the place of coercion and force, and to follow the advice of their chosen representatives and thus restore the confidence the public have in railway workers, and avoid lasting damage to trade union responsibility.
While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his reply, may I ask him if he would ask those concerned to bear in mind their duty to the public, especially in view of the approaching Whitsun holiday?
I hope that the words I have used do convey the responsibility which the railway workers have to the public, and I trust that those words—which I think will have the support of the House—will carry some weight with them.
As one who was inconvenienced last night in travelling from my constituency to London in order to be here today, may I ask my right hon. Friend to strengthen that appeal and do everything he can to ensure that negotiations take place speedily so that everyone can get away at Whitsun for a well-deserved holiday, even if it means that the railway men go back to their strike afterwards?
I hope that the railway workers will take some notice of the advice of their own officials, but I think it only fair to say that at least one-third of the men engaged in this work obeyed the advice of their leaders and remained at work, although about two-thirds disobeyed that advice.
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House and the country something about the state of the negotiations and what the position is in regard to the problem under dispute, namely, the sleeping quarters of the men concerned, and other issues?
I do not think I could usefully add anything on the point to the statement issued by the Railway Executive, which was published on Saturday—a little belated, I think, but they did publish it—and which was given good prominence in the Press. I do not think I could add more to that.
Has any further progress been made in this matter since the statement was published, and has not the Minister's own Department got into touch with the parties concerned and received any later information on the matter?
There is no information later than the statement published by the Railway Executive. We are keeping in touch, but we cannot step in and negotiate on behalf of unofficial strikers. We must act through the unions, who are doing their best to restore normality.
Will not my right hon. Friend take some action in this matter with a view to bringing the parties together and thus avoiding what will otherwise be a very unfortunate position? Why wait until a national disaster takes place before the Minister takes a hand?
The parties are meeting together; they met last week, and they are meeting, again. If my hon. Friend means that the Ministry of Labour should disregard the unions and call in the people engaged in an unofficial strike, we could not think of doing that.
Would the right hon. Gentleman give some advice to the British Railways Executive to the effect that unless some agreement is reached on the question of lodging-out before next weekend the strike is apt to spread considerably? This condition of lodging-out has only just been re-imposed, and it seems rather too bad that we cannot get an agreement much faster than this.
But agreement was reached. The agreement was negotiated between the unions and the Railway Executive and the grievance which the men have—if they have any at all—is against their own unions for making an agreement which they do not support. That is their grievance, and it would be unwise for me to suggest that the Railway Executive have been at fault. I cannot put the blame on one side or the other without knowing the facts.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the dispute is due not to the conditions of the lodging-out, but to the principle of lodging-out itself? The men want to be home every night; that is the grievance.
Is the Minister aware that in 1915 the late Lloyd George, when he was coming to Glasgow, said that in no circumstances would he meet the unofficial committee, but that when he came he did meet them, and that the meeting did quite a lot of good? Would not the Minister think over that?
I did not know that the hon. Gentleman was a follower of the late Lloyd George, but, so far as this present movement is concerned, we cannot meet unofficial strikers, because there is a deliberate, concerted, organised movement in the trade unions to disregard their leaders.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the unions involved in this matter is meeting today to consider the question; is he also aware that the point put by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) is quite erroneous and would he leave the matter for the moment to the parties concerned to meet together and settle it in their own way?
I think that what I have said has indicated that that is our earnest hope. The enginemen and firemen are meeting this week, and we are also in touch with the other unions.
Business Of The House
Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[ Mr. Herbert Morrison.]
Orders Of The Day
Order read for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee).
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the whole House in respect of the amendments in Clause 20, page 15, line 45, and Clause 41, page 33, line 2, standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Bevan."—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]
Amendment made: At end, add:
"and in respect of the new Clause (Insurance Funds) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. John McKay."—[Mr. John McKay.]
Question, as amended, put and agreed to
Bill immediately considered in Committee.
[Major MILNER in the Chair]
Clause 20—(Amounts And Payment Of Improvement Grants)
I beg to move, in page 15, line 45, at the end, to insert:
The Bill already provides in Clause 20 (4) for improvement works with a local authority grant to exceed in certain cases the maximum figure of £600, which is the normal maximum figure in the Bill, provided that the approval of the Minister is given. This provision was included to meet the case of houses of special architectural and historic interest where it was regarded as of special importance that they should be brought up to a proper standard of maintenance and repair, and indeed a proper standard of condition. Under this proposed proviso provision is made so that the local authority may be able to make a larger grant than 50 per cent. towards the special expenditure for this purpose. It is felt that in many cases it is highly desirable indeed that this work should be carried out in the interests of the nation as a whole, and it is felt only reasonable that the local authority ought in this case to make a grant somewhat in excess of the 50 per cent. which is the normal provision in the Bill. To give an example of the way in which this would work out a proposal coming before a local authority might cost a total sum of £900. The first £600 of that £900 would be treated under the normal process of the Bill; that is to say, the owner would be expected to make his contribution of £300 and the local authority would make a grant in respect of the remaining £300. In relation to the excess £300, in addition to the total of £600, the local authority would be enabled under this provision to make a grant larger to than 50 per cent. Indeed, they would be enabled, subject to the approval of the Minister, to make a grant up to the total excess £300 which in the case I have instanced would arise. We believe this is a reasonable provision and will help us to ensure that this category of houses of special interest to the nation will be maintained.Provided that, in the case of an improvement grant to be made in pursuance of an application which could not have been entertained by the local authority but for the proviso to subsection (4) of the last foregoing section, the amount thereof may be such fraction of the approved expense of executing works, in excess of one-half thereof, as may, with the consent of the Minister, be determined as aforesaid.
We consider that this is a reasonable proposal. For that reason we did not object to the recommital of the Bill. I think it is not unreasonable that the local community also should make some contribution towards the expense, since it derives a considerable advantage from the preservation of historic buildings within its own area.
Could the Parliamentary Secretary say whether the decision of the local authority is absolutely final in a case of this sort? Suppose that an owner thinks that a cottage is of architectural and historic merit. If he applies for a reconditioning grant under this provision, but the local authority take a different view, is there any appeal from the local authority's decision, or is their decision completely final?
No, we must leave it to the local authority to make the decision in the first place. After they have made their decision and have decided to make a grant, it is for the Minister to confirm it.
That leaves a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of local authorities who are not always the most enlightened in these matters. I trust that by circular or otherwise the Minister will indicate to the local authorities that such matters should, at any rate, be discussed with his Department since he is very closely concerned in the later financial arrangements. If he indicated that he is likely to look with a genial eye upon such applications, it would encourage the preservation of such property, which I am sure the whole Committee desires.
As the Committee will know, I have put in the Bill for the first time in the history of housing legislation, these special provisions to try to rescue houses of historic merit from passing out of existence. I should be most unhappy if a local authority was not sufficiently enthusiastic to carry out the provisions of the Bill, and of course we should try to ensure administratively that if the local authority was inclined to be negligent its attention would be called to its duties in the matter.
I only mean that since the recent pronouncement of the President of the Royal Academy, it is clear that conceptions as to beauty and the desirability of preserving certain works may differ greatly among many different people. It may be that what appeals to one generation may not appeal so strongly to another. This is a matter upon which we shall all have to keep a vigilant eye.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.