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Written Answers

Volume 466: debated on Monday 4 July 1949

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Written Answers To Questions

Monday, 4th July, 1949

Ministry Of Works

Steel-Framed Buildings

1.

asked the Minister of Works how many steel-framed buildings are now under construction in London; what is the approximate total accommodation which will be so provided; and how these figures compare with steel-framed Government offices now under construction.

Twelve steel-framed buildings licensed by my Department are at present under construction in London for use as private offices. The total area of office space provided will be about 417,000 square feet. This compares with 12 steel-framed buildings providing about 1,180,000 square feet of office space at present under construction in London for Government use.

Wells House Hotel, Ilkley

3.

asked the Minister of Works how much money has been spent on converting Wells House Hotel, Ilkley, for the use of the Ministry of Labour; how long has this accommodation been unused; and what steps are being taken to put this accommodation to some useful purpose.

The cost of adapting Wells House Hotel, Ilkley, and retaining it in a state of readiness for use as a hostel for textile workers, was£18,200. The premises were prepared for this purpose in September, 1948, and have not since been used. They are now being de-requisitioned.

Roadhouse, Barnet

6.

asked the Minister of Works how much longer he intends to keep the roadhouse, known as the "Thatched Barn" on the Barnet by-pass, under requisition, in view of the fact that there are many other sites suitable for the work being carried on.

The "Thatched Barn" provides offices, workshops and experimental grounds for the Field Test Unit, which is part of my Chief Scientific Adviser's Division, and conducts practical tests and development work in building and civil engineering. The future work of the Unit and its needs for accommodation are at present being reviewed. I shall derequisition the "Thatched Barn" as soon as other arrangements can be made, but I cannot yet say when this will be possible.

The Mall (Pedestrian Traffic)

7.

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware that the only space available to pedestrians on either side of the Mall is surfaced with rough gravel which is not agreeable to pedestrian traffic; and whether, in view of the fact that the use of this space by equestrians is comparatively limited, steps can now be taken to make at least part of it more satisfactory for pedestrians.

I am looking into the matter, but I am anxious not to do anything which will interfere with the fine condition of the trees in this important avenue.

Royal Parks (Maintenance)

8.

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware of the appreciation felt by Londoners and visitors to London over the improvements recently made in the standard of maintenance of the Royal Parks and in particular, the grass flower borders and shrubberies therein; and whether he can give an assurance that these improvements will be maintained and continued.

I am glad to feel that Londoners and visitors to London appreciate the way in which the Royal Parks are maintained. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall do all we can to maintain and improve the standards within the limits imposed by present conditions and the financial provisions made by Parliament.

New Huts, Worcester

9.

asked the Minister of Works how many new huts are being erected on the Government buildings site at Whittington Road, Worcester; how these huts are to be constructed; for what are they to be used; whether he is satisfied that the amenities of surrounding property will not be impaired; and whether the town planning authorities have been consulted.

Eighteen standard Romney huts are being erected at Whittington Road, Worcester. These buildings are constructed of corrugated steel sheets on metal ribs, and will be used for a further concentration of stores belonging to my Department. I am satisfied that the amenities of the surrounding property will be only lightly impaired. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning has been consulted, and his consent has been given for these new buildings for a period not exceeding 15 years.

Commons Chamber (Building Operations)

10.

asked the Minister of Works whether, without undue interference with necessary building operations in the court outside the Commons Chamber, steps could be taken to reduce the noise while the House is sitting.

It is difficult to reduce the noise without stopping the work, but I will do what I can to ensure that as little inconvenience as possible is caused to the House.

Bridge, Snape (Preservation)

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware that the present scheme to demolish the old hump-backed bridge at Snape in Suffolk is causing considerable concern to the local residents, who wish to preserve this part of the beauty of old Suffolk; and whether it would not be possible to retain the old bridge and build the new one beside it.

I have asked for a report about the preservation of the existing bridge. The siting of the new bridge would be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

Building Firms, Wisbech Area

asked the Minister of Works what is the total number of builders by types, large, medium-large, medium, small and jobbing or other equivalent terms, in the Wisbech area; how this compares with other parts of the country, both rural and urban; and how many one-man firms are included in the above figures.

The numbers of registered building and civil engineering firms, in the areas of the Wisbech Borough Council and Rural District Council at February, 1949, were:

Number of OperativesNumber of FirmsNumber of firms as percentage of total firms
09556
1–55532
6–191710
20–9942
100 and over00
Total171100
For Great Britain as a whole the numbers and percentages were as follows:

Number of OperativesNumber of FirmsNumber of firms as percentage of total firms
054,21543
1–545,40536
6–1918,33114
20–997,7656
100 and over1,2141
Total126,930100

Admiralty Building (Restoration)

asked the Minister of Works when it is intended to restore the damaged part of the Admiralty facing the Horse Guards Parade so that it will no longer spoil the look of the rest of the building.

I cannot yet say when the damaged part of the Admiralty building facing the Horse Guards Parade will be restored. The restoration work still necessary consists mainly of resurfacing in brick and stone. Stone masons would be required for this work but all those at present available are needed on other more important works, such as the rebuilding of the House of Commons.

House, Purley Corner (Condition)

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware of the dilapidated condition of the house at Purley Corner, Purley, Surrey, occupied by the Board of Trade, South-East Region, and the National Savings Committee; and whether he will take urgent steps to make these premises less unsightly.

I have arranged for the garden of this house to be tidied, and I am consulting the lessor about repairing the fences and redecorating the house.

Fuel And Power

C Licence Holders (Petrol)

17.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that district transport officers are refusing red petrol to holders of C licences for the haulage of goods; and whether he will take steps to bring to an end this indirect way of restricting the freedom of operation of holders of C licences.

The type of petrol which may be used depends on the construction of the vehicle. The district transport officer refuses to issue red petrol only where the vehicle is so constructed that it comes within the definition of "private motor vehicle," as contained in the Motor Spirit (Amendment) Regulations, 1948. Since the use of red petrol in any such vehicle is illegal, it would clearly be improper for him to issue red petrol coupons in these circumstances.

Supplementary Petrol Allowances

20.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is now in a position to increase the supplementary allowance of petrol or the monthly mileage permitted in cases where married men use private cars or motor cycles to return to their families at week-ends.

I regret that in present circumstances I cannot agree to any increase in the supplementary allowances for this purpose. It is always open to the car owner to use part of his standard ration if the supplementary allowance does not enable him to make as many journeys as he would like.

Coal Industry

Board (Membership)

18.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will now review the appointments to the National Coal Board, with a view to replacing some of the present officials with working miners who have the necessary technical ability.

No. I do not propose to dismiss any members of the Board who, in my view, are doing admirable work for the industry and the nation.

Recruitment

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power which are the coalfields where shortage of recruits is holding up promotion of the more experienced men to the coal-face; and how many recruits are required in each of these coalfields at the latest date for which figures are available.

As I informed my hon. Friend on 27th June, the National Coal Board are at present engaged in a review of their manpower requirements and until that review is completed a precise answer to my hon. Friend's Question cannot be given. In general, however, additional recruitment is required more particularly in the North-Eastern, East Midlands, West Midlands and South-Western Divisions.

Food Supplies

Sugar (Excise Duty)

32.

asked the Minister of Food what is the amount of assistance given to the British beet sugar industry, respectively, by way of direct subsidy payment and by indirect subsidy due to the fact that the Excise duty payable by home grown beet sugar is lower than the full rate of Customs Import Duty; and that this preference in duty on home grown beet sugar is included in the price paid to the British Sugar Corporation for its sugar by consumers in the United Kingdom.

The difference between the cost of buying and processing beet and the income from the sale of products is made good by a deficiency payment which, last year, amounted to£3.44 million. All Commonwealth sugar, including home-produced sugar, pays a lower rate of duty than that levied on foreign sugar. It is calculated that last year the difference between the Excise duty payable on home-grown beet sugar and the charge at the full rate levied on foreign sugar was£2.5 million. As regards the second part of the Question, duty preferences to Commonwealth producers do not affect prices to the consumer.

Contracts

asked the Minister of Food if he will publish a list of contracts for the supply of wheat, flour, sugar, meat, bacon, eggs, butter, cheese and tea from abroad, together with estimated arrivals, in 1949 the 12 months ending 31st December, 1949.

Following a Question on 4th February by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), a list of long-term and other contracts was placed in the Library of the House and I am sending the hon. Member a copy. For the commodities he mentions the following additional contracts have been made:

NEW LONG-TERM CONTRACTS (a)
CommodityCountryTerminal DateEstimated arrivals in 1949
('000 tons)
Illipe nutsSarawak31.12.531
CopraMalaya30. 6.536
BaconHolland31.12.5210
EggsHolland31.1.5314.2
ButterDenmark30.9.5514 (b)
(

a) Following the recently concluded agreement with Argentina a five-year contract for meat will shortly be drawn up.

( b) Quantity estimated to arrive in 1949 under a new six-year agreement. This is additional to the estimated arrival shown for 1949 under the old one-year agreement terminating in September 1949.

White Fish

34.

asked the Minister of Food how much white fish landed at British ports in the week beginning 20th June had to be disposed of for other than edible purposes because of a surplus of supplies; and how much foreign white fish was landed in British ports during the same period.

16,700 tons of white fish were landed at the five main fishing ports during the week beginning 20th June, and 1,318 tons of edible fish remained unsold; foreign landings, included in the total, were 2,536 tons. The figures for the other ports are not yet available, but the quantities unsold at them are likely to be very small.

Potatoes

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that within the last few weeks people were queueing for potatoes in Sunderland while there was a surplus in Manchester; and whether he will now entrust the purchase and distribution of potatoes entirely to dealers.

There were plenty of old potatoes about, but new potatoes were generally short at the beginning of June and Manchester was no better off than Sunderland.

Transport

Road Undertakings (Acquisition)

44.

asked the Minister of Transport when he intends to issue draft regulations under Section 101 (1) of the Transport Act dealing with compensation for loss of office through the compulsory acquisition of road transport undertakings.

I hope before long to be able to send draft regulations to appropriate representative bodies for their consideration.

Lamlash Pier

62.

asked the Minister of Transport if he has any statement to make in regard to the negotiations for the repair and re-opening of Lamlash Pier.

I understand that the trustees responsible for this pier have arranged a meeting with the local Pier Committee on 13th July, when certain proposals will be placed before the Committee. I sincerely hope that the meeting will result in a satisfactory solution of this long-standing problem.

Road Passenger Executive

63.

asked the Minister of Transport which, if arty, of the five persons appointed by him to form the Road Passenger Executive, is representative of the workers engaged in the industry.

Members of the Executive set up under the Transport Act are not representatives of particular sections or interests but, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, are chosen from persons who appear to the Minister to have had wide experience and shown capacity in transport, industrial, commercial or financial matters, in administration or in the organisation of workers. I am satisfied that the present membership of the Road Passenger Executive covers this latter category.

Long-Term Road Plans

65.

asked the Minister of Transport whether, in view of the recent publication of the long-term road plan for Lancashire, he will indicate by what date he anticipates that similar plans will be published for all counties in the United Kingdom; and what steps have been, or will be taken, to co-ordinate these plans with those of his own Department.

I cannot say whether any further similar plans will be published or when, since this is a matter for the decision of the county councils. My staff have maintained and will continue to maintain close touch with each county surveyor so as to ensure proper co-ordination of long-term trunk road proposals and the plans of the county councils.

Ferries Report

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is now in a position to give more definite news regarding the recommendations in the Report of the Committee on Ferries in Great Britain; and by what means such recommendations can be put into effect administratively.

Germany

Max Reimann (Sentence)

45.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what reports he has received giving the state of health of Max Reimann, chairman of the Communist Party of Western Germany, now serving a three months' sentence in Dusseldorf Prison, imposed on him by the British military authorities.

Reimann was examined by the prison medical officer upon his readmission to prison on 29th May to serve the remainder of his sentence. The medical officer reported on his re-entry that his general health was not good and that signs of nervous weakness, faulty blood circulation and sleeplessness, were present. He has therefore been accommodated in the prison hospital, where he is receiving appropriate treatment.

Political Refugees

54.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that a statement about political refugees, made by a Military Government spokesman in Germany on 10th May, 1949, is open to misinterpretation; and whether he will clarify the position.

On 10th May a British Military Government spokesman made the following statement:

"Soldiers of the Soviet Army or other Soviet citizens who cross inadvertently or without wrong intent into the British zone and who wish to return to the Soviet zone will in future, as in the past, be returned without delay. We expect reciprocity of treatment in the case of British soldiers or civilians who may stray into the Soviet zone. Persons, whether soldiers or civilians and whether citizens of the Soviet Union or of any other country, who seek political asylum in the British zone of Germany will not be forcibly repatriated. In this we are governed by the long-standing British tradition of granting political asylum to all who genuinely seek it regardless of race, nationality or creed."
This statement seems to me perfectly clear. I am informed, however, that the statement was published only in part in certain German newspapers, and this circumstance may have given rise to that misleading idea of our policy to which my hon. Friend refers.

African Transport Conference

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement about the Central African Transport Conference which took place in Lisbon at the end of May.

At the invitation of the Government of Portugal, an International Conference on African Transport Problems was held in Lisbon from 24th to 31st May. Sir Nigel Ronald, K.C.M.G., C.V.O., His Majesty's Ambassador at Lisbon, headed the United Kingdom Delegation, which included representatives of the various interested Departments of His Majesty's Government, representatives of the Governments of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and the British East African territorities. The other participating Governments were those of Belgium, France, and the Union of South Africa. The United States Government sent observers.The Conference provided a valuable forum for the exchange of information about existing conditions of transport and plans for the development of surface communications in Africa south of the Sahara. Its main purpose, however, was to make plans and draw up the agenda for a further and more detailed conference; and among the recommendations of the Conference which are now being studied by the participating Governments is one that the invitation of the Government of the Union of South Africa to hold this further conference in Johannesburg in October, 1950, should be accepted.Among the items on the agenda recommended by the Lisbon Conference for consideration at the second conference is the establishment in Africa by the Governments and Administrations directly interested of a permanent inter-territorial organisation to advise upon problems of surface transport south of the Sahara. In addition to this agenda, the Lisbon Conference proposed the immediate setting up of an interim body at Pretoria to make detailed preparations to collect information for use at the later Conference. It also urged the Governments concerned to undertake during the interim period the fullest exchange of information about their plans for the development of surface communications.The urgency of certain transport problems in Africa, and in particular those relating to the access of the land-locked Central African territories to the sea, led the Conference to make certain recommendations for immediate action which should not await the deliberations of the second Conference. The most important of these recommendations concern the expansion of the capacity of the port of Beira, and the construction of a new railway link or links between the Rhodesia Railways system and the port of Lourenco Marques. An outstanding feature of the Conference was the spirit of willing co-operation between the various delegations. Thanks to this and to the excellent and businesslike chairmanship of the leader of the Portuguese delegation, Dr. Rui Ulrich, the Conference was able to proceed harmoniously and expeditiously with the formulation of its several recommendations.

Agriculture

Machinery (Spare Parts)

71.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps are being taken to ensure that an adequate number of spare parts will be available to farmers before the harvest as a safeguard against mechanical trouble with American mowers and other imported agricultural equipment.

The importers of agricultural machinery are responsible for ordering adequate supplies of spare parts and are well aware of their importance. Full dollar provision continues to be made for all spares required from overseas for Canadian and United States machines, and substantial supplies are being received.

European Volunteer Workers, Ruthin

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many European volunteer workers at Pool Park Camp, Ruthin, Denbighshire, were unemployed during the recent winter months, and for what periods; what rate of wages were paid them during unemployment; and how much did they pay for their board and lodgings at the camp.

The number of unemployed in the period 1st November to 31st March averaged 6.7 daily. The men received weekly wages at the minimum rates appropriate to regular agricultural workers, less the standard deduction of 30/- per week for board and lodging.

Pensions Tribunals

asked the Attorney General whether he is aware that war pensions (special review) tribunals are hearing and deciding cases in the absence of an appellant, without the appellant being given prior permission for this course to be followed; and whether he will cause these tribunals to follow the normal rules laid down for the conduct of pensions appeal tribunals by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord President of the Court of Session.

I am aware of the practice referred to by the hon. and gallant Member. A few cases have been heard by the special review tribunals in the absence of the appellant, but only when the appellant has previously failed to appear without explanation. It is clearly in the public interest that the review of cases, which is being carried out by this special machinery, should not be allowed to drag on interminably. Some months ago, when the bulk of cases had been disposed of and it was realised that the chief obstacle to the early completion of the review was the large number of adjourned cases, it was decided that in certain circumstances appeals should be heard ex parte. This has been done in an extremely small number of cases and only after notice had been given to the appellants concerned that their cases might be heard in their absence if they failed to attend. Had any of these appellants indicated a desire to attend by asking for an adjournment his request would certainly have been granted. In the circumstances, my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor does not propose that the statutory rules of procedure which bind the pensions appeals tribunals should be extended in every particular to the special review tribunals which are a non-statutory body whose object is merely to advise the Minister on the question of granting ex gratia pensions.

National Finance

Racecourse Betting Control Board

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what revenue he obtains from the operation of the totalisator by the Racecourse Betting Control Board; and what revenue he would have obtained from a 20 per cent. tax on amounts invested with the totalisator during 1947 and 1948 respectively.

The Racecourse Betting Control Board is subject to the ordinary liability to taxation on its profits. A tax of 20 per cent. on amounts invested with the totalisator, while betting with the bookmakers remained untaxed, would have greatly reduced the turnover, and it is impossible to say what would have been the hypothetical yield.

Income Tax (Relief)

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the fact that additional Income Tax is charged to a man who is still working but whose wife has retired on her 26s. a week retirement pension, he will consider some alleviation in respect of such increased Income Tax since the income of the household will now be less.

I assume that my hon. Friend has in mind that the special relief from Income Tax which the law allows where the taxpayer's income includes earned income of his wife does not apply to the wife's old age pension. I would remind him that the object of that relief is to encourage women to enter or remain in employment.

Stamp Duty

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his regulations still prescribe stamp duty on receipts of£2 and upwards; and how far it is applicable to retail cash sales.

The stamp duty of two-pence upon receipts for sums of£2 or more is still in force. The form of voucher commonly given by retail shops in cash transactions where the whole of the goods purchased are taken away by the customer on payment of the price, being primarily a document used for internal book-keeping purposes, does not constitute a receipt, and is not liable to stamp duty even though it relates to a payment of£2 or more, provided that it contains no words stating or implying receipt or payment of money. The customer is, however, entitled to demand a receipt, and the Stamp Act imposes a penalty for issuing a receipt liable to duty but not duly stamped, or for refusing to give a duly stamped receipt.

Estate Duty

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will give figures showing from which sizes of estates he anticipates he will obtain the additional£20,000,000 which is to be raised by the changes in the death duties provided for in the Finance Bill, 1949.

As I explained in my Budget Speech [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949: c. 2104] the existing Estate Duty scale is being retained for estates up to£17,500, and above that figure and up to£35,000 the proposed new scale of duty will not exceed the average of the three old duties taken together on estates of the same size. The additional£20 million of new revenue will come from estates above£35,000.

Life Annuity Contracts

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will give the figures showing how the estimated loss of£3,000,000, expected to result if Clause 22 of the present Finance Bill is not passed into law, is calculated.

My right hon. and learned Friend explained in the course of his remarks in the discussion on Clause 21 (now 22) of the Finance Bill that if this Clause had not been introduced everyone who wished to take out a life annuity would have recourse to a contract of this type. The ultimate loss to the Revenue if this happened would be£3 million a year. The estimate is based on the present level of life annuity business.

Gold Prices

asked the Secretary to the Treasury how much gold has been disposed of by Great Britain to individual foreign countries during the last year; and what sterling equivalent was paid in each case.

I would refer the hon. Member to the replies on this subject which were given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) on 24th May, 2nd June and 31st June.

Steel And Copper Tubing

asked the Minister of Supply if he is aware that the shortage of steel tubing required by building contractors is becoming more pronounced and that copper tubing, at roughly double the cost, is being imported to meet the need; and what steps he is taking to overcome this shortage.

No. New capacity is now in full production and supplies of this type of steel tubing have increased substantially since the beginning of the year. Copper tubing is not being imported to supplement supplies for building purposes.

Education

Emergency-Trained Teachers

asked the Minister of Education what proportion of the 35,000 new teachers announced by him as ready to enter the schools are emergency-trained women who have had an even shorter training than the emergency-trained men.

I take it that the hon. Member is referring to the estimate which has been given of the total number of teachers likely to be trained under the Emergency Scheme from its inception in 1945 to the closure of the last colleges in 1951. This is likely to be about 23,000 men and about 12,000 women. Men and women follow courses of exactly the same length.

Blacklisted Schools

asked the Minister of Education what is the present geographical distribution of the 644 blacklisted schools still in use as classrooms in the national schools; and what steps he is taking to remedy this position.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 10th February last to the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin).

Handcrafts (Export)

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action the Government propose to take to encourage workpeople not only to continue in but to take up handcrafts, in view of the necessity to promote the export of British handcrafts.

The Ministry of Education, through local education authorities, encourage the development of crafts in all types of schools, and in establishments for further education. My Department have promised financial assistance, provided that there is also a measure of private support, to the Crafts Centre of Great Britain whose aim is to maintain and improve the standard of British craftsmanship. I would also refer my hon. Friend to the scheme, announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 30th July, 1948, for giving relief from Purchase Tax on certain categories of handmade articles which reach approved standards of design and craftsmanship. Finally, my Department have given financial assistance to British Handcrafts Export, a body formed on private initiative whose special aim is to promote the sale overseas of British craftwork of a high standard.

Nurses, Eire (Recruitment)

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware of the number of cases in which persons who have been recruited in Eire for the nursing staff of the National Health Service and who have had their passages to the United Kingdom paid out of public money have left their jobs immediately after arrival; whether he will make it a condition of such recruitment that the refund or payment of the fare should be withheld for a probationary period; and that recruits should be asked to sign on for a definite period.

I am aware that such cases occasionally occur. These arrangements are under review, and I will keep the suggestions made by the hon. Member in mind.