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Commons Chamber

Volume 466: debated on Monday 27 June 1949

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House Of Commons

Monday, 27th June, 1949

The House met at Half-past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Teignmouth And Shaldon Bridge Bill

Lords Amendments considered, and agreed to.

Barnsley Corporation Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Mersey Tunnel Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Staffordshire Potteries Water Board Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Ministry Of Supply

Factories (Security Measures)

1.

asked the Minister of Supply what security measures are in force in factories working for the War Office and the Air Ministry; what restrictions have been placed on the movement in such factories of foreign purchasing agents, particularly Russian, Polish, Roumanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czechoslovak and Jugoslav; and how many such agents visited these factories in 1948.

It would not be in the public interest to disclose details of the security measures designed to prevent unauthorised access to information of a defence nature at contractors' works, but I am sending the hon. Member a copy of the Standard Conditions of Government Contracts, paragraphs 21 and 59 of which indicate the type of precaution taken. Many of the several thousand contractors employed by my Department undertake work of a non-defence nature, and foreign purchasing agents may visit such firms in connection with this side of their work. It would not be possible without an unreasonable expenditure of time and labour to give the number of these visits.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an unqualified assurance that under present arrangements there is no possibility of leaks of secret or technical information on developments?

So far as I know, there have been no such leaks. I do not think there is any likelihood of them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman advise hon. Members and the Press to be careful how they speak about these countries, which are likely to become our means of salvation in view of the pressure of another foreign country which means this country no good? If hon. Members do not accept my word, let them take that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Surplus Equipment (Handling)

2.

asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware of the widespread carelessness of those handling surplus Government equipment offered for purchase to the public; and what steps are being taken to prevent unnecessary damage in loading and unloading it as well as during its transit from depôts to the sites of sale.

No, Sir. I have no evidence that such stores are being damaged by careless handling. Frequent inspections are made of goods awaiting auction, and special care is taken in handling any fragile stores.

If I bring to my hon. Friend's attention a specific example in my own constituency of the gross carelessness of the people handling Government stores, will he try to take some action about it?

May I ask the hon. Gentleman not to worry about this, because the taxpayer foots the bill for all this glorious Socialistic muddle?

Engineering Industry (Standardisation)

3.

asked the Minister of Supply whether he has yet received a report from the committee which he set up to investigate standardisation in the engineering industry.

Yes, Sir. I have received two interim reports from the committee, and I am expecting the main report soon.

Will the Minister tell this committee not to dabble in nationalisation proposals?

Stores Disposal, Egypt

4.

asked the Minister of Supply what progress his inquiries into the working of the British Stores Disposals Mission in Egypt is making; and when a report on this inquiry will be available.

A full reply to the points made by the hon. Member has been sent to him. It shows that his allegations were unfounded. There is no reason for issuing any further report.

Jet Engines (Fuel)

5.

asked the Minister of Supply why experiments are being conducted for the adaptation of jet aircraft engines for the use of petrol instead of vaporising oil.

These experiments are being made so that our jet aircraft shall not be dependent upon one particular type of fuel.

Is that indicative of the growing shortage of kerosene, which farmers are compelled to use because of the tax on petrol?

Not necessarily. It is obviously desirable to see whether any other fuels can be effectively used.

Tudor Aircraft

6.

asked the Minister of Supply what number of Tudor aircraft are being converted to freighters; what will be the cost; and when they will be delivered.

Ten Tudor aircraft are at present being converted into freighters. Delivery will probably be completed before the end of the year. It would be contrary to established practice to disclose prices paid under Government contracts.

7.

asked the Minister of Supply what quantity of Tudor aircraft and aircraft parts ordered by his Department there are for which there are no customers; and to whom do these machines and parts now belong.

Owing to reductions in the total number of Tudor aircraft on order, there are for disposal considerable quantities of material, components and equipment, which are the property of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, on whose behalf the contracts were placed. There are no complete Tudor aircraft for disposal by my Department.

8.

asked the Minister of Supply what is the total number of Tudor aircraft, of different marks, ordered by or through his Department; how many have been delivered to the national air Corporations; how many to private concerns; and what is the price in each case.

As the answer contains a number of figures, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

In this information which is to be circularised, am I to be told the price of the aircraft concerned?

I am afraid that that would be contrary to the usual practice. Those figures, I am afraid, I cannot publish.

Can the Minister give me some guidance as to how we can find out how the taxpayers' money is being spent in this case?

The accounts of all Government Departments, as my hon. Friend knows, are scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee.

Is it not the case that in reference to this particular business figures have been published in the public Press, and that the figures that have been published have given rise to a good deal of disquiet? Would it not be much better to give the facts of the case?

I am sure my hon. Friend appreciates the difficulty of publishing figures showing the prices at which contracts are made.

Following is the answer:

The total number of Tudor aircraft, including prototypes, originally ordered was 105, of which 24 were Mark 1 and 81 Mark 2. Owing to subsequent reductions in the orders and changes to later marks, the position is now as follows:

Tudor Aircraft MarkDeliveredStill on order
114
24
32
4610
56
6
71
81
95
Total1822

Six Mark 4 and five Mark 5 have been delivered to B.S.A.A.C. and one Mark 2 and one Mark 5 to a private firm. It would be contrary to established practice to disclose the prices paid.

Ministry Of Works

Ancient Monuments (Season Tickets)

10.

asked the Minister of Works whether he will now make a statement on the issuing of an annual pass for ancient monuments what the price of the pass will be; and from where it can be obtained.

Annual season tickets admitting the holder, accompanied by one other person, to all ancient monuments and historic buildings under the control of the Ministry of Works are now available at the price of El. Tickets may be obtained on application to the Secretary, Ministry of Works, at Lambeth Bridge House, London, S.E.1, or 122, George Street, Edinburgh.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the imagination that he and his Department have shown, may I ask whether the lists of the ancient monuments that he controls will be available?

A good deal of information has been published about them. I may say that it applies to all ancient monuments under the control of the Ministry of Works; there is no restriction with regard to any of them. I will consider whether it will be possible to publish a list, but the list will have to cover something like 470 different establishments.

Embassies (Works Of Art)

11.

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware that many British Embassies and Legations are without any examples of British art, whereas the Governments of many other countries have appreciated the cultural importance of thus exhibiting some of their best national pictures abroad; and whether he will give our diplomatic representatives greater facilities for selecting works of art suitable for the decoration of their Embassies or Legations.

Numbers of pictures have been lent by the Trustees of the National and Tate Galleries for British Embassies and Legations, and the Tate Gallery have recently offered a considerable number. In addition, a small annual sum is at my disposal for purchases. Certain private owners have also generously provided pictures. But there is still a great need for examples of British art for Embassies and Legations, and I would welcome offers to lend works of art for this purpose.

Despite this access to pictures, is it not a fact that these Embassies and Legations are very short of pictures; and will the right hon. Gentleman do something to encourage the supply of better pictures?

Yes, Sir, and I hope this Question and answer will assist in that. At the same time, I would point out that 75 pictures recently offered by the Tate Gallery are at present under consideration for allocation to various Embassies.

Could these Embassies be supplied with photographs of the latest mock-Tudor dining cars, in order that all should have evidence of the idiocy of which a nationalised undertaking is capable?

In allocating pictures to Embassies, will the Minister take into account the different climates, so that the pictures shall not be damaged?

Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's reply that he does not propose to take any additional steps to meet this great need; and if that is the case, will not he reconsider the matter?

I have already said that at the moment 75 pictures are under consideration for allocation, additional to those already distributed.

I trust the right hon. Gentleman will not overlook the canvases of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill).

Factory, Feltham

15.

asked the Minister of Works whether he can now make a statement on the future of the factory premises formerly owned by General Aircraft Limited, Feltham, Middlesex.

I have nothing to add at present to the replies which I gave to the hon. Member on 2nd May and to the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Hardy) on 23rd May.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his consideration of this matter has now been going on for some months; that this House has a right to know exactly what is to be the future of this factory in this locality; and can he hasten his reply?

Negotiations are going on with the other Departments, and I will let the hon. Member know as soon as the information is available.

Building Licences, Chiswick

17.

asked the Minister of Works for what purpose his Department forwards each month to local authorities a list of building licences granted during the previous four weeks within the area of these authorities; what steps are taken to study the comments made by the local authorities upon these lists; and why his regional licensing officer, in letters dated 27th April and 23rd May, reference, CL5/A3/214715/1, refused to furnish the Plans and Town Planning Sub-Committee of the Borough Council of Brentford and Chiswick with information regarding licences for work at 90, Turnham Green Terrace and 250, Chiswick High Road.

Copies of licences issued by my Department are forwarded to local authorities to assist them in their work of detecting breaches of the licensing regulations and not for the purpose of inviting comments on the decisions. In accordance with these arrangements, copies of the licences mentioned in the Question were forwarded to the local authority, but it was unnecessary to communicate any further detail since they were outside the classes of cases in which the officers of the local authority have any responsibility for the decisions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that very often local authorities have special knowledge of and very relevant comments to bring to bear on these questions; is he further aware that the local regional licensing officer for Brentford and Chiswick was lately neither helpful nor courteous and will he look into the matter?

I have a good knowledge of local government, and I know that local authorities have valuable information, and we do avail ourselves of the opportunity of consulting them where it is found or thought to be necessary.

Does the Minister's reply mean that as the work goes on he really expects local authorities to watch the licences, from the snooping point of view, to see that it is carried out? Surely he does not mean that.

No, Sir, I do not mean that. What I mean is that the local authorities are given information about the licences issued, so that if any matters come before them they may know whether or not we have issued a licence and the value of the licence issued.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend would find an opportunity of ascertaining the views of the borough of Brentford and Chiswick on the number of licences which have recently been granted by his Department, and which have caused a very great deal of feeling locally?

I will look into this matter, but I have no reason to think that there is any more reason for looking into this case than into that of any other local authority.

Palace Of Westminster (Alteration)

18.

asked the Minister of Works at whose behest and by what authority he has caused the doorway between the staircase down to the Harcourt Room and the passage to the House of Lords bar to be bricked up; and what the reason is for the alteration.

The doorway in question has been bricked up as a necessary preliminary to the rebuilding of the Law Lords' Corridor, by my instructions, after consultation with the authorities of both Houses of Parliament. The existing staircase will be demolished and replaced by one on the other side of the Peers Terrace Entrance Corridor. An alternative doorway leading to the House of Lords bar has already been provided.

Is the Minister aware that some kinds of drink available in the Lords bar are not available in our House; and will he give an assurance that the impaired access to the Lords bar is not intended to reduce communion between Members of the two Houses?

I went down to inspect this myself this morning, and I understand that there is no obstruction whatever.

In view of the Minister's personal inspection, has he now under consideration the bricking up of the Lords bar altogether?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would be very much better if his Department finished the work on Westminster Hall, which has been going on for three and a half years, before blocking up any more exits and entrances in this House?

The type of labour used in Westminster Hall is entirely different from that used to block up the doorway into the Lords bar.

Fuel And Power

Gas Workers (Territorial Camps)

19.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that the Gas Council has not yet made any decision regarding leave and pay arrangements for employees who wish to attend Territorial Army camps; what is the cause of this lack of decision; and when an announcement can be expected.

Owing to the short time which has elapsed since vesting date, the Gas Council has not been able to unify the widely varying practices of the gas undertakings in the country before nationalisation. The matter has, therefore, been left to the area boards to settle locally, but the Gas Council have asked the boards to deal with applications sympathetically.

Is not this a very simple decision to take; could not the Gas Council co-ordinate this matter and take a decision at once?

There will be a unified policy within the areas of different gas boards this year. It is intended to formulate a national policy for next year.

We shall unify it within the areas, but it will vary between the areas this year.

Because of the varying practices followed in private enterprise prior to nationalisation.

Lubricating Oil (Re-Refining)

20.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what assistance he gives to re-refiners of used lubricating oil in its collection to ensure that all used oil is being re-refined.

Advice is given by the Board of Trade salvage and recovery officers when they visit industrial premises. Where necessary they place the industrialist in touch with the re-refiners. Not all used lubricating oil is, however, capable of being re-refined, and collection from outlying places is often uneconomical.

Will the Minister, in conjunction with the Board of Trade, ensure that the maximum possible use is made of this oil so as to reduce further dollar imports?

Petrol Ration

21.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is now able to announce any further relaxation of the petrol rationing system.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the extreme importance to holiday makers and the holiday industry of having a little bit of extra standard petrol, at least till the end of the summer?

We understand the problems arising from petrol shortages. At the same time, we have an even greater problem in relation to the dollar situation.

Electricity Supplies

North-Western Board (Chairman)

22.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what experience of the electrical industry is possessed by the newly-appointed chairman of the North-Western Electricity Board in the place of Mr. George Gibson.

The post of chairman of an area electricity board is an administrative one, for which previous experience in the industry is not essential. Sir Joseph Hallsworth has wide administrative experience and my right hon. Friend is satisfied that he is exceptionally well-fitted for the post.

Do we understand from that answer that the Parliamentary Secretary considers that, apart from administrative knowledge, no technical knowledge is either necessary or desirable in this type of case?

The hon. Member must have misheard. I was referring to the chairman of this particular Board. He is well supported by many experienced people on the Board.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that there is no feeling whatsoever amongst those who work in the industry against the appointment, and that these politically-inspired attacks are not supported in the industry, especially against a man of proved ability and integrity?

Yes, Sir; indeed, my right hon. Friend has now received a letter from the trade union side of the National Joint Industrial Council dissociating themselves from this opposition and expressing their confidence in Sir Joseph Hallsworth as being eminently suitable for the post.

Differential Tariff

27.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what representations he has made to the British Electricity Authority, asking them to look into the possibility of increasing the summer rebate under the differential tariff for electricity charges, when the financial results of the winter surcharge have been ascertained.

None, Sir. The British Electricity Authority have already publicly announced their intention of considering the matter when the necessary financial results are available. In any case the actual amount of any further rebate would be a matter within the discretion of the electricity boards.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary bear in mind that there is widespread dissatisfaction at the very high winter charges now that the consumers have received their accounts? Will he ask the British Electricity Authority to look into this again and give a higher rebate for summer consumption as soon as possible?

The British Electricity Authority have already made an announcement about that. As soon as they have the necessary information they will make a public statement.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the public were under the impression that the summer charges would on balance offset the winter charges, or, in other words, that the charges would be so much less during the summer? Is he aware that the public feel that as so much less electricity is used during the summer, they will be the losers in the matter? Will he see that the charges are substantially reduced?

It was clearly understood, in putting the Clow Committee's Report into operation, that it was not intended that the British Electricity Authority should make a profit. When the financial results are known they will give consideration to an extra rebate, if that is necessary.

Will my hon. Friend note that there is widespread dissatisfaction at this differential method of charging, and will he try to avoid the necessity of these rebates in the future, as it is a great hardship to the working classes?

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say what the charges will be for the June quarter, because the meters are now being read?

Coal Industry

Coalface Workers

24.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what progress has been made so far this year in increasing the number of coalface workers; and what special steps are being taken to reach the target of 310,000 by the end of 1949 as set out in the Economic Survey.

For the first quarter of this year the number of coalface workers on the colliery books increased at a steady and fairly satisfactory rate. In the next two months there was a decline, the causes of which are being examined but which may be of a temporary nature only. I am not at present able to say whether as a result of this examination the National Coal Board will consider that any further special measures are called for.

Has anything been done within the industry to transfer experienced miners to the coalface and to bring in new men to do their jobs?

Did the Parliamentary Secretary see the statement by one of the Coal Board officials in Scotland, that they will have to get rid of 60,000 of their present miners? Does the Minister approve of that statement?

is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied with the progress that is being made in getting foreign workers into the pits, or is their entry into the pits resisted in a number of districts?

A substantial number are already in the pits, but the scheme has now been closed for the mining industry.

Stocks (Opencast Coal)

29.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power to what extent opencast coal, which is not suitable for open-air storage, is being substituted for deep-mined coal for winter stocks.

Opencast coal is not specifically set aside for stocking purposes. Nearly the whole of current production of saleable opencast coal is being distributed, and it is for consumers and merchants themselves to decide whether and to what extent they retain any proportion of their allocation of such coal for building up end-summer stocks.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the allocation of opencast coal for the whole of this summer is no less than 10.7 per cent., and that supplies of good coal in this area are worse than they have ever been at any time, even during the war? Is he further aware that only good coal is suitable for stocking, and this means that customers today are mostly compelled to have opencast and soft coal?

Owing to the Lancashire dispute, it was necessary to put an increased amount of opencast coal into the area, but now that production is back to normal, the amount of opencast coal will be reduced to the average amount for the region.

Board's Report

30.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will arrange for the publication of a brief summarised edition of the report of the National Coal Board and make it available at a popular price.

The National Coal Board are considering what means should be adopted to bring the contents of the report to the notice of a wider public, and in particular of the members of colliery consultative committees. Meanwhile, I understand, a summary of the report will be published in the next issue of the Board's magazine "Coal."

Will my hon. Friend consider publishing this as a White Paper in order that it can be available to the general public at a popular price?

Publication is not my right hon. Friend's responsibility. He is responsible merely for presenting the report to Parliament. If the National Coal Board do produce a popular edition at a low price, I am sure it will meet the wishes of the House and my hon. Friend.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary give an assurance that in any reprint or abbreviated form of this report the unfortunate misprint on page 15 will not be repeated?

The hon. Member can be satisfied my right hon. Friend and the Coal Board have had that matter drawn to their attention on many occasions and that it is hardly likely to be repeated.

Leasehold Reform (Interim Report)

31.

asked the Attorney-General what proposals he has for legislation following upon the Interim Report of the Committee on Leasehold Reform.

32.

asked the Attorney-General whether the Government propose to introduce legislation to safeguard the position of sitting tenants of business premises as suggested by the Interim Report of the Leasehold Committee.

33.

asked the Attorney-General whether, in view of the hardship to thousands of small businesses all over the country, he will introduce legislation at an early date to implement the Interim Report of the Leasehold Committee.

The Government propose to defer reaching a decision on the proposals contained in the Interim Report until they have had an opportunity of considering any recommendations that may be made in the final Report of the Leasehold Committee.

Is the Solicitor-General aware that his reply will cause considerable disappointment, because the present system is causing hardship and insecurity among business people? Is he further aware that the matter is of particular urgency?

I am aware that the matter is one of great importance, but it is also extremely complex and requires full consideration in all its aspects before any steps are taken.

In view of the fact that the Committee has gone into such great details on this matter and has made specific recommendations, surely the complexity of the subject cannot be any reason for not doing justice to a deserving section of the community?

In spite of the fact that the recommendations are made, very full consideration has to be given as a result of the recommendations.

If a decision is to be delayed until the final Report is issued, can the Solicitor-General give an assurance that the proposed legislation will not be limited merely to those leases signed after the Report has been implemented by Act of Parliament?

I cannot add to what I have already said in regard to the Government's decision.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the Government will put into operation the proposals, or some part of them, piecemeal, particularly with regard to the elimination of intermediate interests which operate so harshly upon the community at present?

I have already said what the Government's decision is, and I cannot add to what I have already said.

Soap Ration

34.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is now able to make any relaxation of the present soap rationing system.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) on 16th May and to his statement in the Adjournment Debate on 3rd June.

Since they were so unsatisfactory, cannot the Parliamentary Secretary add something?

If the hon. Member reads the Adjournment Debate, he will find that the matter was dealt with very thoroughly.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say what saving of soap resulted from the campaign of the Minister of Fuel and Power for fewer baths?

Food Supplies

Points Rationing

35.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will now make a further statement on the future of the points rationing scheme.

I cannot add to the statement made on this subject by my right hon. Friend in the House on 3rd June.

When may we hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to add anything encouraging?

The hon. Member has not said what he wants me to add. I shall be only too happy to answer him if he will tell me what particulars he wants me to answer.

I am certainly prepared to answer that. The answer is a simple one and has been given on many occasions. There are certain foods, such as canned meat, canned fish, dried fruits and canned fruits which are in very short supply, and until we can equate supplies to demand we feel we must retain the points system.

Is the right hon. Lady telling the House that snoek is in short supply, because there are tons of it in my constituency and no one will buy it?

If the hon. Gentleman will listen to the answer which I shall give to a Question dealing with that commodity, I am sure he will change his mind.

Potatoes And Carrots

36.

asked the Minister of Food, in view of the fact that potato merchants are cancelling outstanding orders to his Department for potatoes because they lose money on every bag, how many tons of the 1948 crop he now possesses; and if he will reduce prices to enable them to be used.

I know of only one case where this is the alleged ground for cancelling an order. The small remaining stocks of 1948 crop potatoes have now all been ordered, and the last part of the Question does not therefore arise.

As the Ministry has already lost £10 million, and probably a good deal more, in speculations over last season's potato crop does the right hon. Lady realise that it is impossible for a Government Department to control the distribution of potatoes without a serious loss of food and a serious loss to the taxpayer? May I have an answer? As the right hon. Lady is incapable of answering, I will ask Question No. 37.

37.

asked the Minister of Food if he will instruct his officers to do business over the telephone, which is common practice in the industry, for orders for potatoes and vegetables.

No, Sir; normally we arrange to supply potatoes and carrots for human consumption only for a month or two at the end of the season. Our transactions, therefore, do not enable us to establish trade relationships which would justify business being conducted on the telephone.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that dealers in perishable foods want their produce at the market within 12 hours? In the old days they telephoned their dealers and got it; now they have to telephone the Ministry, and all the answer they get is "Fill up 14 forms," which means that they get delivery in a week.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that potatoes are not highly perishable, and that the House would expect us to have an order of this kind confirmed in writing.

Fats (Containers)

38.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will take steps to prevent the practice of wholesalers in delivering margarine to retail grocers in unlined cardboard containers, the unpalatable flavour of which has in some cases made the contents unsaleable.

All bulk margarine is supplied in parchment-lined containers. We have received no complaints that wholesalers are delivering margarine in unsatisfactory containers, but if my hon. Friend will let me have details of any case he has in mind I shall be glad to have the matter investigated.

39.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that cooking fat is being delivered to retail grocers in wooden cases which are not sterilised when returned for re-issue and that the fat is contaminated by dirt penetrating the greaseproof paper container; and whether he will refer this matter to the working party for the catering trade and consult the Minister of Health and Secretary of State for Scotland on the possibility of further action to ensure hygienic distribution.

We must continue to use returned containers until better packing materials are available. All used containers are cleaned and lined with new parchment paper before being used again. We shall continue our efforts to supply new containers, but it must be some time before we can guarantee to do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that retailers complain that, especially in hot weather, the product seeps through the present detachable lining? Would it be possible to have a more suitable lining?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we have had few complaints of this character, and that the retailer can have the fat replaced if it is contaminated.

Tea Rationing

40.

asked the Minister of Food in view of the more favourable position of our tea stocks, if he will increase the weekly tea ration to the 2½ ozs. received before the last cut in 1947.

Although increased quantities have been contracted for this year, the tea has yet to arrive. We shall certainly increase the ration when it is safe to do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the small tea ration hits single people and old couples very hardly, and results in driving them to drink beer?

I cannot agree. Most old-aged pensioners prefer weak tea to going into public houses.

The right hon. Lady referred to deliveries. Is it not the case that stocks are now much higher than they have been during the past few years? Is it not possible to increase the ration?

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the immense popularity of tea in Birmingham, and will she try to meet the proposal made by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer)?

I agree; I was in Birmingham a fortnight ago, when I had some of the best tea I have ever had.

Canteen Prices

42.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the prices of foodstuffs have been raised in many industrial canteens; and what steps does he propose to take to reduce them and maintain them at the prices formerly operating.

While my right hon. Friend is anxious that the price of canteen meals should be as low as possible, it is not practicable to impose a price limitation for this purpose.

I thought I told the hon. Gentleman the other night, in a Debate on a Prayer, that it is virtually impossible to enforce maximum prices for all sandwiches. Many hundreds of different sandwiches are produced, and it would discredit our orders if we were unable to enforce maximum prices.

Spanish Wine (Imports)

43.

asked the Minister of Food what was the value of wines imported from Spain during the last full year to the end of May; and whether, in view of the unfavourable balance of trade with Spain, he will restrict imports of wine from that country.

The value of wine imports from Spain during the year ended 31st May, 1949, was £2,153,388. I am advised that this country's balance of payments with Spain is not at present unfavourable.

In view of the need to restrict imports of a non-essential character, can the right hon. Lady justify the importation of £2 million worth of wine this year?

We have never said that we shall restrict consumption of, say, sherry, of which this importation largely consists.

Electricity Industry (Minister's Speech)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether the speech of the Minister of Fuel and Power to the Electrical Trades Union sets out the policy of His Majesty's Government with respect to the replacement by others of persons at present employed in managerial and technical capacities in the electrical industry.

I have been asked to reply. The Press reports of the speech were necessarily condensed, and some of them may have given a wrong impression. My right hon. Friend was not suggesting that any of the managers at present employed in the electricity industry should be replaced, but merely that if workers were to be in a position to compete for managerial posts as vacancies arose they must have opportunities for training and promotion.

Does that welcome denial include a contradiction of the report which appeared in a number of newspapers, to the effect that the Minister of Fuel and Power had indicated an intention to remove competent technicians from the industry and replace them with what he described as "our own people"?

I think it is clear from the reply I have given that my right hon. Friend had no such intention. The hon. Member can therefore rest in peace on that point.

Did the Minister of Fuel and Power consult the Cabinet or the Prime Minister before making what might have been a most important speech?

I do not know, but if all Ministers had to consult the Prime Minister before making speeches, it would keep my right hon. Friend very busy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Members on these benches welcome the suggestion that there will be an opportunity in all trades for members of trade unions, of all sorts of ranks, to reach the highest level?

Festival Of Britain

46.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will arrange that the itinerary of the land-borne and sea-borne exhibitions which will tour the United Kingdom under the Festival of Britain, 1951, shall include the City of Aberdeen.

No, Sir. The itinerary of the land-borne and the seaborne travelling exhibition of the Festival of Britain has been considered most carefully in relation to the whole country and, since the whole of the Festival season will be required to cover the agreed itinerary, I regret that no additions can be made to it.

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that this would exclude the whole of the North-East of Scotland, which would do much to contribute to the success of the exhibition? Will he say why that large piece of territory is being excluded?

I am not sure that my hon. and learned Friend is right. The sea-borne exhibition is to visit Greenock and Dundee. I would like to have seen Aberdeen included, but not every port can be covered and I much regret that Aberdeen cannot be included.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is an "organisational" aspect to this question. Is he satisfied that the proposed arrangements are organisationally possible?

If my hon. Friend goes on like that, I shall have to write to the editor of the "Spectator" about it.

Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging for a river-borne exhibition to travel past the coast of the Borough of Brentford and Chiswick up the Thames?

Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate sending the exhibition to Belfast?

My recollection is that something favourable is happening in regard to Belfast, but I would not like to commit myself without notice.

Germany

Political Parties

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is satisfied that the composition and policy of the Right German Party, which was recently allowed to contest local elections in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, are substantially different from those of the German Right Party which was recently banned by the British Control authorities on the grounds that it was opposed to the free development of democratic practices in Germany: and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The two parties are substantially different, the German Right Party being smaller and more local than the German Party. The right wing of the German Party has recently absorbed some members of the German Right Party in the Wolfsburg area, where the German Right Party was banned for undemocratic practices in and after the elections held there in November, 1948, and our authorities are watching the situation carefully. My right hon. Friend is satisfied, however, that there is at present no cause for further intervention.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the answer he gives reveals that he has completely misunderstood the question? He referred throughout to the German Party, and he will see that there is no reference to the German Party, which is an entirely different party from the one mentioned in my Question. It refers to the German Right Party and the Right German Party. Is he aware that both of these are purely local organisations, that they both consist substantially of the same people with substantially the same programme, that they are standing at the elections in Wolfsburg and that this is merely an invasion of Military Government rules?

If my hon. Friend studies my reply, he will see that we are not so far apart as he thinks. What I was taking him to mean by the Right German Party was the right wing of the German Party, and that is the correct way of interpreting his Question.

For the information of the House, would my hon. Friend say which is the right party?

Book (Distribution)

48.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action he proposes to take about the circulation in the British zone of Germany of the book entitled, "Hitler as War Lord," by General Heilder, which justifies Germany's invasion of Allied countries and the part played by the German army in the late war.

This pamphlet was recently published under American licence in the United States zone. There are no restrictions on the distribution of publications between the British and American zones, and my right hon. Friend does not think the circumstances warrant any departure from our normal practice.

Does my hon. Friend think that the purposes of our occupation in Germany are well served if we allow publication of a book which records as the only dissatisfaction with the Nazi regime the fact that Hitler was inefficient enough to lose the war, and which justifies the German invasion of Allied countries?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are bad parts in this book, but we have gone into the matter carefully and we feel that on balance, suppression would do more harm than good.

Communications, Berlin

49.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Berlin, with special reference to traffic between the city and the three Western zones.

The settlement of the railway strike in Berlin, which was announced yesterday, will result in the resumption of rail traffic between Berlin and the Western zones as from 28th June. Road transport and inland water transport links between Berlin and the Western zones are already in operation. However, the arrangements for rail, road and canal communications are not at present satisfactory. They will, I hope, be improved and supplemented as a result of the agreement reached at the Council of Foreign Ministers on 20th June.

Could the Under-Secretary say what restrictions are holding up traffic?

It is difficult briefly to describe what they are, but I would be prepared to give further information if a Question is put down.

Berlin Air Lift (Cost)

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the cost of the Berlin air lift to date since its inception; and what proportion of the cost is borne by the British taxpayer.

The extra cost to the British taxpayer up to 15th June, 1949, was approximately £8,600,000. I regret that I have no information as to the costs borne by the United States Government. In terms of weight carried into Berlin, however, the British contribution has been about 23½ per cent. of the whole.

What steps are the Foreign Office taking to tell the German people of the wonderful actions we have taken to save them from starvation, which the Communists are trying to use as a weapon to destroy the German people?

Could my hon. Friend say what steps are being taken to ask France to take a share in the cost of the air lift?

War Pensions

55.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what progress has been made in assessing and paying pensions due for war service to ex-members of the German forces.

The only pensions for war service payable to former members of the German armed forces are disability pensions. Since August, 1947, when these were included in the Industrial Accident Insurance Scheme, nearly a million pensions have been reassessed and about 900,000 new claims considered. About 50,000 new claims are being received every month.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is intense hardship amongst many wounded and limbless members of the German armed forces and that many of them have no pensions at all, and are there no steps which can be taken in order to assist in this very serious situation?

Yes, Sir, I am aware of the hardship caused, but it is a question of what the German economy can bear.

Is the hon. Gentleman correct in referring to these as war pensions? Are they not the same very meagre compensation as is paid in all cases of hardship?

I am distinguishing between war pensions and long service pensions, which aroused some interest in the House recently.

Is not the distribution of the German income a matter for the Germans themselves?

In these Wehrmacht matters, we have occasionally had to issue regulations.

Gelsenberg Benzin Company

56.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what grounds a licence was granted for the making of improvements to the factory of the Gelsenberg Benzin Company, operating in the British zone of Germany, when this establishment is one earmarked for destruction.

The licence granted was of a temporary and limited character for the reactivation of that part of the plant necessary to process 15,000 tons of natural oil per annum.

Is it true that 17 million marks have actually been expended on this particular factory and that it is now going to be pulled down?

That is the sum alleged by the Germans, but it seems a fantastically large sum for the work done.

Refugees' Bank Accounts

57.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it is with his approval that pre-war German refugees from Nazi oppression now resident in this country have had their blocked savings in Germany reduced by 70 per cent. at the order of the Military Government.

This cancellation concerned that part of bank accounts in Western Germany which was blocked following the currency conversion of June, 1948, and was carried out by the three Occupying Powers as part of the currency reform operation. It was applied uniformly to all accounts and it would not have been possible to give preferential treatment to the accounts of any particular class of individuals.

Is not that answer misleading? Is it not true that these unfortunate people first of all lost 90 per cent. of their savings on the devaluation of the mark, and are they not now suffering loss of a further 70 per cent. of what is left? Surely we cannot agree to a monstrous injustice like that.

I can only say that undoubtedly cases of individual hardship occurred when this currency conversion took place, but it simply was not possible to make exceptions.

Icelandic Fish (Payment)

70.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is now in a position to say whether the cargoes of two Icelandic trawlers which arrived off German ports during the week commencing 22nd May and which were in excess of the number the Icelandic Government have been requested to deliver and which went to fishmeal, have to be paid for by His Majesty's Government.

The question of the obligation for payment is still under consideration; I will communicate with the hon. Member as soon as a decision has been reached.

What kind of contract have we entered into which leaves any doubt whether we should pay for fish which we did not order, and fish which is bad?

The circumstances in which the fish was rejected were somewhat unusual. This is a legal question which is now being decided, and I cannot comment on it.

Will the Under-Secretary see that a copy of this contract is placed in the Library for hon. Members to see?

International Wheat Agreement

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if His Majesty's Government have decided to sign the International Wheat Agreement which is due for ratification by 1st July.

Yes, Sir. His Majesty's Government have already signed the International Wheat Agreement and intend to ratify it before 1st July.

Could the Minister tell us whether enough countries have signified their intention to ratify so as to ensure that this agreement will come into operation in August?

Suez Canal (Detained Ships)

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the detention by the Egyptian Government of British ships in the Suez Canal area.

In response to our recent representations, the Egyptians have agreed to abolish military inspection of ships, to speed up inspection, to cease demanding certificates of ultimate destination and to inspect only suspected military cargo. However, we do not consider these concessions to be adequate, and are continuing to press strongly for the abolition of all restrictions.

Is the Government going to put in any claim for compensation for the loss that many British shippers have suffered because of the delay imposed upon their ships?

Burma (Assistance)

53.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the results to date of the informal conference between India, Pakistan, Ceylon and the United Kingdom regarding assistance to the Government of Burma.

Representatives of the Governments concerned have been discussing assistance with the Government of the Union of Burma in Rangoon. The Burmese Government have expressed gratitude, and have indicated that they do not desire to incur external financial liability unless it is absolutely necessary. They have deferred a decision on this matter. Meanwhile, arrangements are in hand for the supply to the Government of the Union of Burma of arms and military equipment required by them.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the concern felt by some of us in this House that the arms being supplied to the Government of Burma are being used against the Karens and not only against the Communists? In view of the record of the Karens during the war, does he realise that that is causing some of us a lot of concern?

I can only say that our object is the assistance of the legal Government in Burma.

Has not the state of affairs to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) has referred arisen because the Karens are now wholeheartedly supporting the Communists?

Middle East Office (Functions)

54.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what are the exact functions of the Middle East office in Cairo; and what personnel are employed in that office.

As the answer is long I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the answer:

The principal functions of the British Middle East Office are, firstly, to report upon events and issues, political, economic, financial and social, affecting more than one territory in the Middle East; secondly, to develop and ensure the co-ordination of His Majesty's economic, financial and social policy in that area and to make recommendations as to action required.

The British Middle East Office consists of a Head (Sir J. M. Troutbeck, K.C.M.G.) and a Deputy Head (Mr. J. W. Wall), both of whom are senior Foreign Service Officers, and of a Development Division, together with a small subordinate staff. The services of the Middle East Representatives of the Treasury, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Civil Aviation are also available to the Head of the British Middle East Office.

The members of the Development Division are available to advise Middle East Governments on social and economic development at their request, and in the three years since the Division was set up their services have been in increasing demand.

The Division consists of highly qualified advisers on labour, health, forestry and soil conservation, statistics, entomology, animal husbandry (this post is at present vacant).

Examples of their work are: the organisation of central statistical offices for the Persian and Iraqi Government; collaboration with the American consortium, Overseas Consultants, Incorporated, in advising the Persian Government on the implementation of their seven-year plan, with special reference to agriculture, forestry and soil conservation, animal husbandry and statistics; advice to the Middle East Governments on measures to combat the desert and Moroccan locusts; advice to the Middle East Governments on the preparation of labour legislation and trade union and national insurance policy; assistance to British companies in the Middle East who are large employers of labour, such as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Iraq Petroleum Company, in the development of social welfare amenities, trade co-operative societies, etc., and advice on the application of local labour legislation to their own labour problems; advice to the Egyptian Government in the control of their cholera epidemic in 1947–48; and assistance to various Middle East Governments in the recruitment of British technical advisers.

Brazil (Consular Invoices)

58.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in the interests of increased reciprocal trade between this country and Brazil, he will approach the Brazilian Government for a reduction of the high fees charged for consular invoices and for the restrictions caused by the interpretations placed upon such invoices by Brazilian consular officials.