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Commons Chamber

Volume 466: debated on Monday 4 July 1949

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House Of Commons

Monday, 4th July, 1949

The House met at Half-past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Crewe Corporation Bill Lords

Manchester Ship Canal Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Ministry Of Works

Allotments, Regent's Park

2.

asked the Minister of Works on what grounds he is proposing to terminate the tenancies of allotment holders in Regent's Park at the end of this year; if he will reconsider his decision, in view of the valuable food produced, and that, in most cases, the plots are so situated that they are unsuitable for the playing of games.

My statutory duties require me to maintain the Royal Parks for the use and enjoyment of the public as a whole and not to alienate portions of them to individuals. I have carefully considered the decision to terminate the tenancies of the allotments in Regent's Park at the end of this year and I am unable to alter it. All the allotments occupy ground which before the war was used for games and it will be used for this purpose again when it has been restored.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the admirable principles which he has enunciated as to his stewardship of the Royal Parks when he is considering Richmond Park?

I have already told the hon. Gentleman over and over again that that is the case with regard to Richmond Park.

Are not the allotments necessary to the public as a whole for the production of food, and is not food more important than games?

Transport Division (Reorganisation)

4.

asked the Minister of Works why the reorganisation of the transport division of his Department has been carried out without honouring the redundancy agreement; and what provision he proposes to make for the men who have been turned off in spite of the 1914–18 pledge.

As I have already explained to the hon. Member a major reorganisation of the transport division, involving posts with revised salary scales, became necessary and it was not possible to deal with the reorganisation on the basis of normal redundancy in a particular grade. After advising the staff association concerned, notices of discharge were issued to all existing staff. The claims of all these officers to appointments to the new posts were considered by a selection board specially convened for the purpose and new appointments were offered to the best qualified of them. I regret that I cannot undertake to make any special provisions for those discharged following this reorganisation.

Does any reorganisation of this division justify the Government in breaking the pledge they gave to the men of the 1914–18 war?

No pledge to the men was broken by this reorganisation. That pledge dealt with the normal redundancy in any one grade. This matter concerns the whole reorganisation of the transport division.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether, as the result of that reorganisation, any men who came into his Department after the 1914–18 war have been given the sack and have not been offered new jobs?

Requisitioned Buildings, Grosvenor Square

5.

asked the Minister of Works why a notice of requisition has been served by his Department upon the owners of Nos. 33 and 34, Grosvenor Square, London, W.1.

These properties were urgently required by the European Co-operation Administration for use as office accommodation. Since no offer of a lease or tenancy could be obtained, except on terms which the Administration were legally precluded from accepting, and possession was urgently needed, the premises were requisitioned. If suitable terms of occupation can be agreed the requisition will be withdrawn.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they say in Grosvenor-square that an Englishman must now have an American visa if he is to get into the square, even for the ownership of his own property?

People who say that in Grosvenor-square are obviously saying something that is not true.

Prefabricated Buildings, Macclesfield

11.

asked the Minister of Works whether the erection of the prefabricated buildings at Byron Street and Athey Street Secondary Schools, Macclesfield, will be completed before 1st October.

Fuel And Power

Petrol Allowances

12.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power why a firm contemplating buying a motor car for business use cannot be informed before acquiring the car whether the necessary petrol to run it will be granted on providing the full information as to the use to which the car will be put if obtained.

Regional petroleum officers have standing instructions to make a provisional assessment, if requested, of the quantity of petrol which will be granted. But if the hon. Member has any case of difficulty in mind and will send me details, I shall be glad to look into it.

13.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what is the basis of the reduction in the petrol allowed to a commercial traveller, previously journeying in a Class C vehicle or van in a certain area, who changes from a van to a saloon car to carry out the same work over the same area.

Operators of goods vehicles used solely for the transport of goods are, and always have been, granted petrol by the district transport officers of the Ministry of Transport on the basis of meeting their essential requirements in full. Commercial travellers using a car which can also be used for private purposes are assessed by my regional petroleum officers in accordance with a fixed scale of allowances. It would be impossible to issue petrol coupons for private cars on the same basis as for goods vehicles without serious abuse involving a substantial increase in petrol consumption.

When a firm changes, for reasons of efficiency, from a van to a private car, is it not unreasonable not to give the same amount of petrol to cover the same area for exactly the same purpose? Surely it is inefficient to carry out an allotment on the basis described by the Minister?

I certainly would not describe it as inefficient. One has to draw the line somewhere between goods vehicles and private vehicles, and in this case we have followed the definition laid down by the Motor Spirit Regulations which were recently made.

Hard Coke Supplies

15.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether sufficient supplies of hard coke are now available to meet the needs of the iron and steel industry; and what is the prospect for the future.

The answer to the first part of the Question is "Yes, Sir." In addition, some hard coke is now being exported. As regards the second part of the Question, forward estimates of hard coke requirements of the iron and steel industry have been prepared, and energetic steps are being taken to see that coke oven capacity—including new ovens—will be sufficient to produce the necessary supplies of coke.

Electricity (Generating Programme)

16.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how far supplies of electricity are falling short of requirements; what are the prospects for next autumn and winter; and what progress is being made to overtake shortage of equipment.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the remarks I made on the generating programme during the Debate on fuel and power on 19th May.

Coal Industry

Board's Report

14.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will arrange the production for wider circulation of a summarised version of the National Coal Board's Report for 1948 in popular form.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) on 27th June.

Quality (Complaints, Birmingham)

19.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that a 10-ton truck of coal, unloaded in Birmingham last week, contained two-thirds waste and slack; that there is a general complaint from coal merchants in that city regarding the quality of coal distributed there; and what action he intends to take.

No, Sir. Soon after Press reports of this incident appeared, one of my regional coal officers inspected the contents of this truck of opencast coal. Some of the coal had already been sold; the remainder consisted of a small heap of good clean slack, and several tons of hard coal of reasonable calorific value with a negligible proportion of dirt. This hard coal, however, does not look attractive and is unpopular with some domestic consumers.

With regard to the second part of the Question, no general complaint has been made to my Department by Birmingham coal merchants about the quality of coal delivered to them recently. Since the Press report appeared about this truck, however, I have received representations from two merchants, one of whom is the consignee of the truck. As regards the last part of the Question, I would refer to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), on 31st March. I would add, however, that if the opencast coal which forms about 6 per cent. of the total allocation of this region were withdrawn, I could hold out no hope of replacing it by other coal.

Is the Minister aware that I hold in my hand a photograph of the two-thirds of slack from the wagon, and that since my Question was put down, I have received a letter from a large firm in Birmingham which refused to handle seven truck loads of coal because of the rubbish it contained, and returned it? Can my right hon. Friend say what is to happen to the people in Birmingham who must go short of the coal? We are getting short enough in Birmingham as it is.

I have already answered the original Question very fully and shown that we have had a complete inspection of this allocation. There is a recognised channel for complaints. If the merchant is dissatisfied, he should get in touch at once with the area marketing officer of the National Coal Board and discuss the matter with him. This has been agreed between the merchants, the Board and my Ministry.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a considerable portion, or, at any rate, a proportion, of opencast coal is quite unsaleable by his Department?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that seriously—that all the opencast coal which is mined is being sold? That is contrary to the information which I have.

During the past winter there was a considerable fall in the stocks of opencast coal. There has been a very slight rise since the beginning of the summer, but that is a normal seasonal occurrence.

Is a photograph of a truck the best possible means of assessing the quality of coal?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Railway Executive is very dissatisfied with the quality of coal being provided for the locomotives—

That supplementary question is too wide. The Question does not relate to the provision of coal generally.

Leasehold Committee (Report)

21.

asked the Attorney-General if, in view of his deferring reaching a decision on the proposals of the interim Report of the Leasehold Committee, he can say when the final Report can be expected.

I regret that I am unable yet to say when the final Report of the Leasehold Committee can be expected.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that, so far as he is concerned, the final Report will be expedited so that legislation can be introduced in this Parliament?

That must be a matter for the Committee when they present their final Report.

Having regard to the weighty arguments put forward in the two minority Reports presented by the Committee, is it not clear that this is a matter on which the Government will be justified in taking time for consideration?

Since the interim Report has to await a final Report, and since so many owners of small businesses are daily being oppressed by acquisitive landlords, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear whether the legislation to be introduced is likely to be retrospective?

I do not think I can anticipate any Government decision on the matter.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider his decision, particularly because large numbers of people are being threatened with eviction from their business premises and offices and have no alternative but to await this legislation?

The decision was very carefully considered before it was reached, and I am afraid that I can see no ground at the moment which would justify its reversal.

Diplomatic Immunity (Tass Agency)

22.

asked the Attorney-General whether his attention has been called to the recent ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case Krajina v. Tass Agency, to the effect that the agency in question is protected against actions for libel by diplomatic immunity; and whether he is considering amendment of the law of immunity in this and similar cases.

I have been asked to reply. The Court of Appeal decided, applying the existing law, that as, on the evidence before the Court, it did not appear that the Tass Agency was a legal entity separate from the Soviet Government on the ordinary legal principles applicable, the action would not lie. The immunity from suit of foreign States, their Governments and Government Departments is different from diplomatic immunity but rests equally upon an established principle of international law.

His Majesty's Government are studying the decision of the Court, but I am not yet in a position to state whether any change in the existing law will be thought necessary, and, as leave to appeal to the House of Lords has been given, I think in any case any statement at the present moment would be premature.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the law as interpreted by the Court of Appeal stands, it means that any agency sponsored by any foreign Government can libel anyone in this country from the highest in the land down to myself with complete impunity? Does he recognise that in the case of any Government less meticulously scrupulous about the courtesies than the Soviet Government, a very serious situation might be created?

I am advised that the alarming conclusions which the hon. Gentleman has drawn do not necessarily follow. At any rate, I should have thought that since the ordinary processes have not necessarily been exhausted, it would be premature for me to offer any opinion on those alarming conclusions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present law of immunity of sovereign States is based on nineteenth century conceptions of sovereignty—in most cases on the monarchy—which are quite out of date in modern conditions in which States take part in a great many activities, and that the law should be reconsidered?

I have already pointed out that this does not rest upon, although it is related to, the law of immunity, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to be drawn into the much wider implications of that false hypothesis.

Is the right hon. Gentleman content that we should all be liable to be called the same names as he is called in Moscow?

Food Supplies

Imported Cereals

23.

asked the Minister of Food what proportion of the cereals imported into this country during 1948 was bought through private firms in the grain trade.

A very small proportion in 1948—less than one per cent.

In view of what the Minister of Food said in this House on 26th May this year, will the right hon. Lady convey that information to her right hon. Friend?

No, Sir. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman misunderstood my right hon. Friend, who said that he reserved the right either to enter into Government-to-Government contracts or to use private trade. The hon. and learned Gentleman, I remember, denied that categorically, and this has proved that my right hon. Friend was right.

Does not the right hon. Lady recollect that the right hon. Gentleman began by saying that all cereals were bought through private merchants?

My right hon. Friend said:

"I did not say that the Ministry of Food do not buy direct when they wish to, but I say they reserve the right to buy through firms in the grain trade acting as their agents, as they have done through these years, when they consider it right to do so."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 26th May, 1949; Vol. 465, c. 1568.]

24.

asked the Minister of Food what proportion of the cereals imported into this country during 1948 came from countries other than Australia, Canada, U.S.A., and the Argentine.

25.

asked the Minister of Food what proportion of the cereals bought from Australia, Canada, U.S.A., and the Argentine, respectively, in 1948 was bought through private firms in the grain trade.

Sugar Refiners (Payments)

26.

asked the Minister of Food whether his attention has been called to the fact that on pages 22 and 42 of the Trading Accounts and Balance Sheets, 1947–48, it is stated that subsidies amounting to £12,739,256 are paid to sugar refiners in this country to enable them to earn an approved profit margin, whereas in fact no subsidies are paid to the refining industry; and whether, in view of the misunderstanding which may arise, he will take steps to rectify this error and to clarify the position.

In the 1947–48 accounts we showed separately that part of the subsidy on sugar which is represented by the payments made to sugar refiners. In paragraph iv (f) on page 22 of the Trading Accounts it is indicated that the payments are made on a basis which will enable them to earn an approved profit margin after taking account of the cost of raw sugar, their operating expenses and the prices at which they are required to sell.

Arising out of that answer, did not the right hon. Lady herself tell the House in November, 1945, that sugar refiners received no subsidy, and is it not important, when the reorganisation of this industry is under consideration, that the Ministry should not give the impression in their accounts that the industry is in receipt of a large subsidy when, in fact, it is not?

I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the position. Of course, we distinguish between subsidies which are losses on trading and subsidies of this kind. Ultimately this subsidy will go to the consumer, but we have shown in the trading accounts just where it is injected, at the refining stage. We have done it for other trades and nobody has objected except Messrs. Tate and Lyle. I think they are unduly sensitive.

Chocolates And Sweets

27.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the fact that the withdrawal of sweet rationing was in the nature of an experiment, he will now give an assurance that in connection with any further experiments involving the de-rationing of food, he will take particular steps at the outset as to ensure the success of the operation.

An operation the success of which can be ensured at the outset cannot be described as an experiment. My right hon. Friend dealt very fully with this subject in the Adjournment Debate on 3rd June and I cannot add to what he then said.

Did not the right hon. Gentleman allude to it as being in the nature of an experiment, and is it not a fact that, in view of the attitude adopted by the Government at the very outset of the de-rationing of sweets, namely, giving only a negligible quantity of additional raw materials, the scheme could not possibly succeed? Is it not true to say that what the Government really had in mind was adversely to affect public opinion against all forms of de-rationing? I suggest that is the case.

The hon. Gentleman illustrates what I said in my answer. My right hon. Friend did describe it as an experiment and, unfortunately, it was not successful.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether that supplementary question is not an expression of a guilty conscience?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that a great deal of the apparent shortage is due to the fact that distributing agencies such as cinemas and race courses, etc., which previously took sweets and agreed with the Government that they would not do so during rationing, then came forward again and took them. Is not a great deal of the shortage due to redistribution methods rather than to anything else?

No, I cannot accept that. The reason is that the nation has a sweet tooth, the size of which we could not entirely assess.

Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that the failure of sweets de-rationing was due to completely inaccurate forecasts from people who are supposed to know the trade?

31.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that at the Cambridge fair, held on 22nd to 24th June, gambling tables were packed with high-class chocolates, given to winners; that many people, especially in the villages, have not been able to buy chocolates since rationing ended; and if he will immediately ration sweets again to establish fair shares for all.

Stallholders obtaining sweets for this purpose may only purchase their supplies from licensed retailers in the same way as any other member of the public. As regards the reimposition of rationing, I can add nothing at present to the reply given by my right hon. Friend on 22nd June to my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn).

Is the right hon. Lady aware that high-class chocolate manufacturers do not supply these people? Can she account for the huge quantity of high-class chocolate in the hands of these people? Further, is she aware that since de-rationing people in the villages hardly ever see any chocolate or the children any sweets? Cannot she stop this dilly-dallying and put sweets back on the ration?

I can only say to my hon. Friend that we have made inquiries and, as far as we can ascertain, these chocolates were obtained by legitimate means.

When the greedy have become gorged, is it not reasonable to assume that supply and demand will be reconciled? Therefore, why not leave this experiment for a few more months to see how it works out?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a week before this fair took place, the stallholders were sending touts around to retailers in the town offering fantastic prices for sweets and, for instance, offering five shillings for a packet of 20 cigarettes? Is there no means of stopping that?

Certainly, if my hon. Friend will give me details of the stall-holders concerned, we will institute proceedings.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that sweet rationing always worked smoothly and gave fair shares to everybody, and since the ending of rationing has altered that position, why should there be any doubt or delay in getting back to the former position?

35.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the de-rationing of sweets has been followed by a reduction of supplies reaching some wholesalers; and whether, in view of this, he will accelerate a decision as to whether or not sweets will once again be rationed.

Most manufacturers are distributing their supplies as fairly as possible, although some complaints have reached us. As regards the reimposition of rationing, I can add nothing at present to the reply given by my right hon. Friend on 22nd June to my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn).

We are becoming rather accustomed to the second part of my right hon. Friend's answer. Can she really assure the House that she is aware of the strong feeling and anxiety of many people on this subject, and why cannot she speed up a decision on this matter? May I also ask her whether, in specific cases where retailers' supplies have gone down drastically since sweet rationing ended, she will look into the matter if such cases are brought to her notice?

May I remind my hon. Friend of the answer I have given to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), namely, that we are now considering the matter?

38.

asked the Minister of Food why blocks of milk chocolate could not be bought at Blackpool during Whitsun week.

Milk chocolate forms only a small part of the chocolate and sugar confectionery supply, and it does not surprise me that my hon. Friend found none on sale in Blackpool during Whitsun week. Even under rationing we could not guarantee that any particular kind of chocolate would be available.

Would the right hon. Lady be surprised to know that three days afterwards when I was in Berlin there was an abundance of chocolate on the black market?

That is probably because my right hon. Friend and I are not in charge of Berlin's affairs.

Can my right hon. Friend explain why there is no chocolate of any kind either in Blackpool or anywhere else in Britain—

My hon. Friend would agree with me that even when rationing was in force there was not an unlimited supply of chocolate. It was not possible for everybody to get their ration honoured with chocolate alone, and people therefore had to take other sweets. The same position, of course, obtains now.

Did the last answer but one by the right hon. Lady mean that she was telling the people of Blackpool that if there were another set of Ministers in the Ministry of Food, there would be milk chocolate in Blackpool?

Is not the lesson of this example of de-rationing, "Never take Lord Woolton's advice"?

Early Potatoes

29.

asked the Minister of Food what instructions he has given for the disposal of more than 300 tons of Cornish new potatoes which were until recently lying in the railway sidings at Monkwearmouth and elsewhere.

All the Cornish potatoes bought by my Department have now been cleared, including those sent to Monkwearmouth. Most were sold for human consumption but some had to be disposed of for stockfeeding and processing.

In view of the disastrous losses sustained by the Ministry of Food, will the right hon. Lady give an undertaking that she will go out of the potato business tomorrow morning?

I should like the House to know why this happened. The reason is that 48,000 tons of potatoes were delivered to us by the growers in 11 days, and the railways were unable to cope with the situation.

Arising out of what the right hon. Lady has said, is she not aware that I asked the right hon. Gentleman to extend the date by one week and that the refusal to extend it has caused this confusion? Is she not also aware that a great shortage of sacks came about through her Department, and that it was due to the shortage of sacks that the trucks were filled and congested the railways?

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong about the sacks. We sent so many sacks into the area that half a million have not been used.

Was the delay further exacerbated by the fact that although in one case a large quantity of sacks was available, they were not allowed to be used until they had "M.O.F." stamped upon them?

No, I cannot agree with that. The reason was that the farmers under-estimated the crop, which was 50 per cent. higher than they had originally estimated.

30.

asked the Minister of Food how many railway trucks loaded with potatoes were lying in the sidings at Manchester on or about 18th June; and whether they have now been cleared.

One hundred and twenty-eight trucks, the last of which had been cleared by 23rd June.

In view of the enormous losses sustained by the Ministry of Food, will the right hon. Lady give an undertaking to go out of the potato business tomorrow morning or tonight?

41.

asked the Minister of Food what quantity of this season's crop of Cornish potatoes has been used for stock feed.

Does the right hon. Lady realise that this situation was brought about owing to really bad management and distribution on the part of her Department, and is she further aware that had supplies been available even on the basis of last year's crop, some of them would have reached my constituency in Macclesfield?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is wrong in the first part of his supplementary question. We could not possibly anticipate such a large crop this year. I have already said that it was 50 per cent. higher than even the growers estimated. I repeat that they sent 48,000 tons to be loaded and transported in 11 days and that it was quite impossible for the railways to undertake this task.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that she has completely missed the point with regard to the question of sacks? It is not a question of whether sufficient sacks were available at the end. There were not sufficient available at the beginning, and that is what caused the congestion at the end.

Tea Stocks

33.

asked the Minister of Food what are the stocks of tea at the most recent available date; and at comparative periods in 1948 and 1947.

It would not be in the national interest to give the figures for which the hon. Member asks.

Will the Minister recall that a little while ago her Department published figures which showed that the stocks in February last year were 1,900,000 lb. and in February this year 3,300,000 lb.? If her Department can publish these figures, why is it not possible for her to divulge them in this House so that we might then be able to say to her, "Why not half an ounce more tea per person"?

If the hon. Gentleman knows those figures, I cannot understand why he has put a Question on the Order Paper.

Typists, Hayward's Heath

36.

asked the Minister of Food the cost in expenses, salaries and fares of the four relief typists recently brought from Colwyn Bay to Hayward's Heath for his carrot division for four weeks; and if he is aware that local girl typists could have been obtained.

The cost was £87 17s. 2d. Two of the typists were sent from Chelmsford, where they were already on relief work. The normal practice of approaching the local employment exchange was not followed in this case as the area supervisor at Hayward's Heath had himself been asked for help by firms who had been unable to obtain typists from the exchange.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that at that time typists were available locally and that if they had been employed all the cost of travelling and of maintenance away from home might have been saved; and if this is going on all over the country, is it surprising that her Ministry confesses to a loss of over £1 million on carrots and £4½ million on potatoes?

I looked into this matter very carefully and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the information I received about typists being available is not the same as his information.

Now that supply has caught up with demand, why do not the Government abolish the carrot division altogether?

Civic Restaurant, Bedford (Closing)

37.

asked the Minister of Food what applications he has had from caterers in Bedford for the issue of increased quantities of rationed foodstuffs to meet the increased demands to which they are subject as a result of the closing of the civic restaurant.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable local disquiet because a really successful experiment in public enterprise has been stopped, and can she exert any influence on the local authority to look into this matter again so that local opinion will be effectively taken into account?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I regret that this civic restaurant has been closed, but I am afraid that I have no power to influence a local authority in this matter.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that if the full implications of the hon. Gentleman's remark that local opinion should be taken into account are, in fact, implemented, there might be some difference in the Parliamentary representation?

Jam Manufacture (Sugar)

39.

asked the Minister of Food what limitation there now is of the quantity of sugar available for jam manufacture; and if he will give an assurance that he will replace in full the sugar allotted to jam manufacturers during the last eight-week period but one, but not in fact delivered.

Sugar is being released at the rate of 200,000 tons a year and we have agreed to hold a further 7,000 tons in reserve for the industry in 1949 if we find that they need it. I have received no complaints that manufacturers were unable to obtain delivery of the sugar allotted to them for the last eight-week period but one, but if the hon. Member knows of any case in which this has happened, I shall be glad to look into it.

Would the right hon. Lady be good enough to have a talk with me on this very important matter? I can give her a lot of useful information.

I am always ready to help the hon. Gentleman when he is reasonable.

Algerian Wine

43.

asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the fact that no more wine is to bought by his Department, he will now state how much Algerian wine is at present held by his Department.

42.

asked the Minister of Food how much Algerian wine has been released from bond since last February.

I regret I can add nothing to the reply given by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) on 21st March.

Has not the right hon. Lady's objection in the past to publishing the figures of stocks been based on the ground that it might prejudice negotiations for future purchases, and can she at least assure the House that the Government are not proposing to buy wine of this sort?

The hon. Gentleman would agree that publication would work both ways it would prejudice future sales. At present we are negotiating sales and are at a very delicate stage in the negotiations. It would be quite wrong to disclose stocks now.

Would not the right hon. Lady agree that, because no one can drink it, the proper use of this wine in future is for cooking purposes in order to make the small amount of food that is available rather more palatable?

Germany

Berlin Air Lift

46.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what assistance France has given in the Berlin air lift.

The French Occupation Authorities control the unloading operations at Tegel airport, one of the three Berlin terminals of the air lift, and their assistance there has been of great value. No aircraft engaged in the air lift are based in the French zone which is geographically remote from the three air corridors leading in and out of Berlin. French aircraft have not participated in the operation because, I understand, they have had no suitable aircraft available.

Have any representations been made to France to lend one or two machines of Air France, as we have lent machines from our civil airlines?

I can only repeat that no suitable craft have been available. It does not necessarily follow that the machines of Air France would have fulfilled the qualifications required.

Is it not also a fact that France has declined to permit any of her food or other commodities to go on this Berlin expedition?

That is a quite unjustifiable assumption and is not connected with this Question.

Railway Workers, Berlin

49.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how much of the subvention of the wages of the railway workers by the West Berlin Magistrat is being provided from British sources.

Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to ask the other Members of the Government to give the same support to the demands of British railwaymen as they purport to have given to the alleged demands of these railwaymen?

The question of support, or non-support, does not arise. I was asked from where the subvention came. The answer is that the authorities are not responsible at all for the subvention.

British Personnel (Vegetables)

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will so amend his regulations that British personnel in Berlin will be permitted to buy fresh vegetables grown locally.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a glut of vegetables in Berlin but that British personnel in Berlin have to wait a couple of days to get vegetables from Holland? Will he look into this grievance?

I have looked into it most carefully. It is true that there is a temporary glut but it is due to the fact that buyers rushed in during the temporary suspension of the blockade. But Berlin, over a considerable period, is a deficit area in vegetables, and His Majesty's Government would not agree to place further burdens on the Berliners in this matter.

Oil-From-Coal Plants (Repairs)

53.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the total expenditure he has sanctioned for repairs to oil-from-coal plants in Germany which have been now scheduled for destruction.

I am unable to confirm the reports circulated by the German firms concerned as to the amounts which they claim to have expended on their own responsibility. The specific expenditure in question was not sanctioned by Military Government which, at the request of the Land Government, merely authorised the grant of a licence for repair work.

Is the Minister aware that I was told by the president of the miners' union in the Ruhr that 17 million marks had been sanctioned for this purpose? Is he aware that this view is very generally held in the Ruhr, and is there some foundation for it?

I am aware that it is quite genuinely held, but I am also firmly aware, and have evidence, that the view and the figures are being circulated by the German firms affected.

China (Communist Authorities)

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will send a high-ranking personage to Peiping at once to open preliminary negotiations with the democratic authorities.

If, as I assume, the hon. Member is referring to the Chinese Communist authorities, the answer, as stated in a reply to the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) on 29th June, is that the Communist authorities have declined all contacts with the representatives we already have in China.

Does my right hon. Friend not appreciate that the object of this Question is to suggest that he should send some high-ranking personage whom the authorities in that country will acknowledge, because the necessity of our establishing trade with the new China is so vital to the very survival of our country?

It has already been made plain several times that our consular officials are available for contact and, indeed, have attempted to make contact. Our Ambassador certainly cannot be described otherwise than as a high-ranking personage.

Foreign Office (Mrs M A Hamilton)

48.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what appointment in his Department is held by Mrs. Mary Agnes Hamilton, C.B.E.; and what are the duties in connection with it.

Mrs. Mary Agnes Hamilton holds the post of Director of the American Information Department. Her duties are to provide approved material and guidance for the work of the British Information Services in the United States.

While I have nothing to say against the personal integrity of this lady or her fitness for her job, does the Minister consider it is a good thing to have in this position someone who in the past has been so actively engaged in party politics?

I cannot follow the hon. Member's reasoning. This lady has many connections with the United States, both as a speaker, an author and, I believe, as a publisher. Her service, as the hon. Gentleman has observed, is impeccable. I can see no reason at all for proposing that she should be changed.

Speaking as one who has recently been to the United States, is my right hon. Friend in agreement with me when I say that this lady has been most helpful and impartial in regard to all the work of all Members of this House who have visited that country?

Hungary (Elections)

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what reports he has received on the conduct of the recent General Election, or plebiscite in Hungary; to what extent the action taken by the Hungarian Government to eliminate all political opposition culminating in the holding of this plebiscite infringes the terms of the Yalta Agreement and of the Peace Treaty with Hungary; and what action His Majesty's Government will now take to seek to enforce the terms of the Peace Treaty.

The recent elections in Hungary permitted only candidates of the so-called People's Front, which had the approval of the Government. It was emphasised that an adverse vote or an abstention would be regarded as equivalent to treason. No publicity was allowed for views opposed to those of the Government. The elections were not in fact designed to give the Hungarian people an opportunity freely to elect representatives of their own choice. As regards the second part of the Question, there is no doubt that these elections were completely contrary both to the spirit and to the letter of the Yalta Agreement and of the Treaty of Peace with Hungary. As regards the third part of the Question, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply returned on 27th June to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid). This describes the endeavour of His Majesty's Government to enforce the terms of the Peace Treaty.

In considering methods by which we can enforce the terms of a peace treaty, is reconsideration being given to our whole trade policy with Hungary and the other countries in the Marxist bloc, or is it still completely divorced from politics?

There have been several statements made on our trade policy. Our trade policy rests on mutual advantage, and I cannot see that the objective of the hon. and gallant Member would be furthered by discrimination against this policy of mutual advantage.

Haifa Oil Refinery

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the present position with regard to petroleum supplies from Haifa; and what representations have been made to the Government of Israel in this connection.

The Haifa refinery is not functioning at present owing to the recent hostilities in Palestine and to the fact that the pipeline from Iraq is still closed. There would not seem to be reason or occasion for His Majesty's Government to address themselves to the Government of Israel upon this subject. However, His Majesty's Government remain anxious to see Haifa operating again and we shall lose no opportunity of furthering this purpose.

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that, as the non-functioning of this pipeline puts a great strain on us in dollars, its added urgency at the present moment should be borne upon him and upon everyone else?

Can my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that the Government are making every possible effort to get these refineries going again and making representations to all the authorities concerned in the Middle East, whether they be the Israeli, Iraqi or Egyptian Governments?

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that no one periodical has exclusive information on this subject.

Are His Majesty's Government of the opinion that the proposal of the Iraqi Government that oil should only be allowed to come through the pipeline on the condition that it will not be used for war purposes the other end is a practical proposition, or not?

Is it not a fact that the major part of the supplies to the Haifa refinery always came by tanker? Cannot that part of those supplies be restored?

I cannot say definitely that the major part always came by tanker. I am in agreement that we should seek to restore any sources of supply to this refinery.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Israel has expressed her willingness that the refinery should be used and in fact, for a short period after the establishment of Israel, it was so used, and that the Iraqi Government are standing in the way of any oil being sent through the pipeline? Will he do something about it?

I would have liked notice of the second part of that supplementary Question. The first part is correct, and, in answer to the third part, the Iraqi Government are not the only party to this proceeding.

In view of the fact that all the supply which used to come by tanker amounted to about two-thirds of the total, can my right hon. Friend say what is holding things up now?

I could not agree that two-thirds is a correct total, but I would not avoid admitting that it was a very substantial proportion. As my hon. Friend knows, it is a very complex problem.

Austria (Elections)

55.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the fact that agreement may be reached over the Austrian Peace Treaty, leading to the restoration of Austrian independence, he will now make further efforts to persuade the Allied Governments concerned to permit the holding of genuinely free elections.

If my hon. Friend has in mind the question of the freedom of the Austrians to form new political parties, I would refer him to the replies given on 9th May. My right hon. Friend has constantly in mind the possibility of making further representations in this matter.

Will my right hon. Friend again seek to take up this matter, if necessary outside the Allied Control Commission, at the very highest level, bearing in mind that it is quite farcical to consider the possibility of a treaty being signed with Austria if they have not freedom to form new political parties?

Our view on the subject is well known and has been expressed, but I regret that it would not seem to me desirable to add anything to that view at present.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a new situation is now arising in view of the fact that it is likely that there will be a treaty before long, and, since the American and the French seem to be the main obstacles to this desirable change, will he draw their attention to the fact that their attitude is out of accord with their general desire to maintain the traditions of Western democracy?

Transport

London Railways Plan (Report)

56.

asked the Minister of Transport the reason for the delay in the publication of the report of the working party on London transport facilities and when it will be available.

66.

asked the Minister of Transport how soon he expects to receive the report of the working party on London transport facilities.

There has been no undue delay. The Report will be published tomorrow afternoon. It is a Report on London railways from a Working Party set up by the British Transport Commission to review the proposals of the Railway (London Plan) Committee. The publication will include the views which the British Transport Commission have submitted to me on the Working Party's Report. The estimated expenditure is of the order of £340 million; and the works which include many new tube and main line tunnels, would take some 20 or 30 years to complete. The proposals, if adopted, would exercise a determining influence on the planning of London, particularly in relation to the central area and the re-development of the South Bank. The future of the three railway bridges at Charing Cross, Blackfriars and Cannon Street is also involved. Clearly, therefore, the Government must give the fullest consideration to the Report, and to the major policy issues affecting the planning of London, before decisions on the Report can be reached. This will take some time, and a statement of the Government's intentions will be made in due course.

In view of the high cost of these works and the fact that my right hon. Friend has not referred in his reply to any proposed electrification of any lines out of London, will he give an assurance that the electrification of certain lines will take place prior to the very heavy cost involved in the construction of tube railways?

Many of these electrification proposals are also involved. The whole scheme will require very careful consideration. I certainly cannot at present give any indication of priorities.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply now mean that there will be another enormous delay before any decisions are taken about the rebuilding of London?

I do not think it is a question of the rebuilding of London. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will read the answer which I have given, he will see that the British Transport Commission, the body now responsible, has immediately given very careful and detailed consideration to this Report, and the Minister and the Government are now in the position, having received the original London Plan Report and the observations of the Commission, to consider them jointly.

Before final conclusions on the Report are reached by my right hon. Friend or the Government, will an opportunity be given to the respective communities to make their representations about the proposals?

I have not the slightest doubt that before that point is reached there will be great interest taken in many aspects of the Report, and that the views of properly constituted bodies will be taken into consideration.

In view of the importance of this Report on reconstruction plans in London, are we likely to have a relatively early decision on it?

I do not know what my hon. Friend means by "an early decision." A figure of £340 million represents a very big expenditure in view of the financial condition of the country, but I have indicated that all the preliminary work of investigation has been carried out and that it is now for the Government to decide in relation to the facts submitted.

Will consideration of this Report have the effect of suspending still further the Minister's decision in regard to the main traffic arteries in London on which some action is urgently needed?

It depends what the hon. Member means by "main traffic arteries." They can be roads or railways.

Are we to understand from the Minister's reply that the Government have no idea of what the meaning of "an early decision" is?

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman should not understand anything of the kind. In view of his own financial experience, I suggest that he should appreciate the necessity of expenditure of this description receiving the careful consideration of the Government, and we shall not be deflected from that consideration.

Consultative Committee, London

57.

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects that the Transport Consultative Committee for the London area will be set up; and what bodies he proposes to consult to nominate members to this committee.

I have invited bodies representing the appropriate interests to submit nominations from which I can choose members for the Transport Users Consultative Committee for London. With the hon. Member's permission I propose to circulate a list of the bodies in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Are the interests of outer London to be represented on this body, and particularly the western outskirts of London?

if my hon. Friend will look at the list which will be circulated in HANSARD tomorrow, he will be able to see the bodies which are being consulted.

When the Minister says "London," does he mean London or the London Transport area?

Following is the list:

Association of British Chamber of Commerce, London Chamber of Commerce, Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Congress, Federation of British Industries, National Union of Manufacturers, Trades Union Congress (two members), General Council of British Shipping (two members), County Councils' Association (two members), London County Council, Common Council of the City of London, Association of Municipal Corporations.

Road Accidents (Inquiries)

59.

asked the Minister of Transport how many inquiries into road accidents were held in 1948 under Section 23 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930.

None, Sir. There was no accident during that year where such an inquiry seemed likely to afford any significant information beyond that available from reports by the police and the Department's technical officers.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary realise that when Parliament put this Section into the Act it did not intend it to remain almost a dead letter? Does he not think that when an accident is exceptionally serious or presents any special features use should be made of this Section?

When an accident presents new characteristics which are worthy of investigation this sort of inquiry is held, has been held and will be held in the future.

Car Parking (Lights)

60.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will consider introducing legislation to amend the existing law regarding the parking of cars without lights in well-lighted streets.

My present view is that the power to exempt vehicles from carrying lights is rightly restricted to those standing or parked in places specially set aside for the purpose.

Is the Minister aware that the Home Secretary did not seem to have that opinion when he answered a good many Questions last March and previously in this House; and that the special committee of the R.A.C. and A.A. recommend that legislation should be introduced by the Minister of Transport as soon as possible.

I certainly do not agree that the Home Secretary's reply indicated a different view from my own. It really comes down to the fact that the experience of the police should be the determining factor in this matter.

Goods Vehicles (Regulations)

61.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that many "A" and "B" Licence holders are unaware of the regulations requiring them to apply for original permits before the end of July; and if, in view of the importance of this matter to the operators, he will instruct licensing authorities to inform all licence holders individually.

No, Sir. As I indicated in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) on 27th June, these regulations have already received wide publicity and I propose to take steps during July to remind hauliers of their effect. In the circumstances I do not consider that the sending of individual notices to some 60,000 hauliers is necessary or would be justified.

What steps does the Minister propose to take in July to remind hauliers?

This matter was fully publicised at the time of the passing of the Transport Act and since. We intend to repeat all those processes during July, but in view of the circumstances of the last two or three years I cannot for one moment conceive that there is any haulier in this country who is not aware of this situation.

Hyde Park Corner (Congestion)

64.

asked the Minister of Transport what steps he proposes to take in the near future to relieve the congestion of traffic at the bottleneck by the Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.

Traffic difficulties at this point can only be overcome by considerable road alterations. Proposals for such alterations are under consideration, but works of the magnitude involved cannot be carried out until economic conditions improve. I know of no immediate measures which are likely to be helpful.

In view of the fact that there is a considerable amount of spare ground there which neither pedestrians nor traffic use, and in view of the large number of minor accidents which are occurring, is it not possible for some temporary diversion to be made to overcome the difficulty while major policy is being decided?

This is such an exceptionally heavy traffic point that I am afraid that no temporary measures can meet the situation. It really requires the complete reorganisation of that traffic area.

Ministry Of Supply

Tudor Freighters (Price)

68.

asked the Minister of Supply for whom has he ordered the 10 Tudor freighters; and whether the price has yet been agreed with that customer.

The order has been placed on behalf of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, who will reimburse the cost to my Department. The price has not yet been finally agreed.

Can my right hon. Friend say how the price will be determined? Is it to be on a cost-plus basis?

Negotiations are proceeding, and I am afraid that I cannot add anything at the moment.

Brabazon Aircraft (Trials)

69.

asked the Minister of Supply if he will make a statement about the approximate date on which it is expected that the Brabazon I will make its first flight trials.

It is always difficult to forecast when flight trials of a new aircraft will take place, but it is hoped that the Brabazon I will make its first flight within a few months.

Hermes Aircraft (Delivery)

70.

asked the Minister of Supply what was the original agreed date for the delivery of Hermes aircraft; and by what date delivery is now expected to be completed.

It was originally hoped that these aircraft would be delivered by June, 1949, but according to present estimates all the aircraft should be delivered by early next year.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend heard the remark of Sir Frederick Handley Page, at the end of his reply to a toast at the Grosvenor Hotel, when he said, "To hell with Government planners"? Are we to understand that delay in the delivery of these aircraft is due to Government planning or private enterprise?