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Ministry Of Works

Volume 476: debated on Monday 26 June 1950

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Park Chairs And Seats

26.

asked the Minister of Works how many chairs or seats are available in the parks and open spaces under his control, either free or on payment of a fee.

Messrs. Shanly, the contractor for park chairs, maintain a stock of 11,000 deck chairs and 25,000 iron chairs for use in the parks on payment of a small charge. The number available depends partly on the public demand and partly on the number under repair. Normal wear and tear and, to a regrettably large extent, wilful damage caused by irresponsible persons result in large numbers of chairs being unavailable at any one time. In addition my Department provide nearly 2,000 free seats, with a seating capacity of over 10,000 places.

Is the Minister's policy to provide more free chairs in our parks and not to have chairs for payment all the time?

That matter is now under consideration. The contract with the present contractor goes on for about another two years, when the matter will be reconsidered.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two people sometimes take up a whole bench, and can he do anything about it?

Cement Imports

29.

asked the Minister of Works what quantities of cement are being imported; and what is the average price per ton delivered in this country.

Eighty thousand tons of cement and clinker are being imported under arrangements made between the cement industry and my Department, and the whole of this is being sold at the same price as British cement. I understand that in addition a comparatively small amount is entering under private arrangements and is being sold at higher prices.

I did not ask the right hon. Gentleman what prices it has been sold at. The Question asks:

"what is the average price per ton delivered in this country"
from abroad? In other words what price are we paying for it?

We are paying rather more than for home-produced cement. Imported cement is being subsidised to the tune of about £2 per ton.

Does the Minister mean to say that the prices we are paying for our cement imports are higher than the prices which we are receiving for our cement exports? If so, does he consider that good planning?

I did not say that at all. If the hon. Member wishes to ask that question, I shall be glad to answer it next week if he will put down a Question.

Is it not also a fact that much of this imported cement has to be mixed with a resistant material—

The Question asks only for quantities and the average price of imported cement.

Could the right hon. Gentleman not state the actual price, as asked for in the Question?

I have done so. I have stated that we are paying more for the imported cement—about £2 per ton more. The average price we charge to the industry is the same as for the home product.

Mobile Labour Force

The following Question stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. MARPLES:

30. To ask the Minister of Works what are his plans for the future of the Mobile Labour Force.

The Ministry has for some years proceeded on the basis that all its building work should be let to contract wherever possible and that the Mobile Labour Force should be used only for work of recognised urgency which cannot be carried out by other means. The Mobile Labour Force has done admirable work but I have decided that it should not undertake any further commitments except in very special circumstances. Subject to any such cases arising, the force will be allowed to run down as its programme of work now in hand is completed, which, so far as can be foreseen, will be about the end of 1951.

Does that answer mean that the Mobile Labour Force will not continue to build, at a price of £3,000, houses for the Forestry Commission which let in water? Does the Minister realise there is a widespread feeling that the Mobile Labour Force is an expensive method of building, and that that feeling has not been allayed by his refusal to give the costs?

The houses built for the Forestry Commission were built under very special circumstances. That case is a very stale one, which I am now having re-investigated. We shall undertake to build only in cases of a special nature, and I do not regard Forestry Commission houses as coming under that head.

What is the size of the Mobile Labour Force which the Minister wishes to have in being?

42.

asked the Minister of Works why he is using the Mobile Labour Force and direct labour at Capenhurst; how long he proposes to continue using them; and were competitive tenders received for the work being carried out.

The Mobile Labour Force is being employed at Capenhurst on certain preliminary works which could not be carried out by other means within the urgent time schedule and without causing delay to the major part of the project. The intention is to let as much as possible of the later work at Capenhurst to normal contract, on the basis of competitive tenders. In reply to the second part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given him on 19th June.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he could have estimated preliminary works on competitive schedules if he had used plus or minus quotations, and had used the schedule of prices they have in the Ministry of Works? In other words, does he realise that he could have received competitive tenders for the work without delay?

The hon. Gentleman may be right, but I am not so informed. I have inspected the work myself, and I am satisfied that what has been done is in the general interest. This is only preliminary work which will give the main contractors, whenever they under-take the major portion of the work, a much better start, with the ultimate effect that there will be a much quicker finish.

Cement Supplies

31.

asked the Minister of Works if he is aware of the shortage of cement in the Macclesfield and Congleton areas, which is holding up house building progress; and what steps is he taking to remedy the position.

Yes, Sir. Deliveries to the north-west region have recently been increased, and the Macclesfield and Congleton areas should benefit thereby.

Is the Minister aware that I have a letter in my hand saying that orders for cement placed on 22nd March have yet to be completed? Is he aware that the failure to carry out these orders is holding up the construction of 30 new houses, and will he undertake to give to my constituency the same priority as the South Bank Festival of Britain site?

The hon. and gallant Member will realise that I am not directly responsible for the distribution or manufacture of cement. Arrangements have been made for an increased supply to that area of 3,000 tons as between the third week in May and the present date. It may be that some people are still short, and we are doing our best to meet particular cases. If the hon. and gallant Member will send me particulars I will see what I can do.

The Minister says that he is not responsible for the production and distribution of cement. Is he not responsible for the amounts used by the Service Departments?

Is the Minister aware of the very serious effect which the shortage of cement is having upon agriculture in Cheshire; and further, that the shortage is occurring just at the very time of the year when cement is needed most? What does the Minister intend to do about it?

I am aware of the seriousness of any shortage. If the hon. and gallant Member has any case, agricultural or otherwise, I shall be very glad to look into it.

37.

asked the Minister of Works what reply he has sent to the letter addressed to him, dated 17th June, 1950, from the Liverpool Regional Federation of Building Trade Employers regarding the shortage of cement on Merseyside; and how far either of the suggestions made are practicable.

I have sent my hon. Friend a copy of my reply to the Federation's letter. She will note that I warmly welcome the second suggestion to encourage the use of lime mortar instead of cement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer to the first part of the Question is not considered to be satisfactory? Will he say whether he has any authority to deal with the amount of cement that is actually exported, and whether his Department undertakes any responsibility for the fact that too much is exported and there is insufficient to meet home needs?

The hon. Lady is not quite right in her facts. It is impossible to alter the export programme at short notice, but I certainly can influence it. I have taken such steps as may be necessary, after consultation with the trade, to modify the export programme. Long before that, I took steps to supplement what the trade thought was immediately necessary at home. I arranged to import 80,000 tons, and they said the total was adequate.

Will the Minister have the reply he sent earlier to me circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the Minister do anything about channelling cement supplies for building trade purposes, particularly housing, rather than for the other uses to which, unfortunately, cement goes?

The responsible cement distributing companies have been asked to give top priority to all house building programmes, if necessary stopping other work of national importance.

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman's reply may cause misunderstanding, will he make it quite clear that it is the Government which fixed or, at any rate, laid down, in a communication to the industry the target for cement production for the home market and that the industry has delivered more cement in the home market than was asked for in the Government target?

The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. I doubt if anybody could have foreseen what has happened. A greatly increased production of cement has taken place, but there has also been a very much increased consumption. I hope that by the end of six weeks the situation will be balanced, and that by the end of the year home production will have greatly overtaken demand.

44.

asked the Minister of Works what reduction there has been in the supplies of cement to the City of Nottingham and the immediate district.

Is my right hon. Friend confident that his desire that supplies of cement should be used for house building purposes only will be accepted, and that the advice he has given to the trade will be accepted by the trade?

So far, the trade have been very co-operative. Whenever I or my Department have drawn their attention to a so-called shortage, or a danger of shortage, in housing, they have, to the best of my knowledge, taken immediate action.

Can the Minister say whether the reduction of supplies in Nottingham and district for house building during recent weeks has been more or less than 25 per cent. as compared with the past year, and whether the top priority of which he spoke includes priority before the National Coal Board?

The question of increased supplies is raised in another question on the Order Paper.

Is the Minister aware that when I drew attention to this shortage some weeks ago he denied there was a shortage? In view of the Questions asked today, and the concern expressed on both sides of the House about this, does he still maintain that there is no shortage? Will he do something about it?

It all depends what the hon. Gentleman means by shortage. The cement companies have done very well. They have produced a great deal more than was ever anticipated would be required, more than could have been anticipated by anybody. There has been a very considerably increased consumption. When I said there was no shortage, what I meant to say was that there would be no shortage on the amount originally planned.

63.

asked the Minister of Works what demands for cement from other undertakings there have been that have necessitated reducing supplies of cement to builders for housing purposes in the Nottingham City area.

I am not aware of cement for housing in Nottingham having to be diverted to other undertakings.

Will my right hon. Friend take all the necessary steps he can to give that information to the local building organisations, who are spreading very widely the story that cement is being used in large quantities for non-essential work in the Nottingham district?

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for asking the Question. I am sure that his local paper will publish the reply.

Is the right hon. Gentleman sure that he has better figures than the local builders? Can he categorically deny that the amount of cement for house building during the last few weeks has, in fact, been more than 25 per cent. less than in the corresponding period last year?

That is rather difficult to answer categorically. I can only tell the hon. Member that in 1949 the average for the first quarter was 9,618 tons; in 1950 it was 10,152 tons and in the present quarter, so far, the average has been about 400 tons a week above that.

65.

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware of the cement and brick shortage in South Wales; and whether he will suspend operations on all building work not classified as essential in order that materials may be used for housing purposes.

I am aware that supplies of cement and bricks may not be sufficient to meet all demands in South Wales, but I do not know of any serious interruption in important work. The answer to the second part of the Question is, "No, Sir."

Is the Minister aware that his own Department recently issued a disturbing report with regard to possibilities in South Wales? Will he stop the large scale building of Prudential Insurance premises, which will largely be used as Government offices?

I will have a look at the report to which my hon. Friend refers, but I must point out that it is not for me to discriminate. I have gone as far as I think reasonable by saying that housing is to be given top priority and asking the cement companies to observe that request.

Building Apprentices Scheme, Wembley

32.

asked the Minister of Works why he rejected a proposal by the London Regional Joint Apprenticeship Committee for the Building Industry to set up a further apprentice master scheme in the Wembley district.

It is not possible to have more than a limited number of schemes in the London area and their distribution has been settled in consultation with the London Regional Joint Apprenticeship Committee for the Building Industry. Wembley has not been included because we are advised that there is greater need for these schemes elsewhere.

Does the Minister not consider there is also a great need in Wembley? Why is there a limitation in the number in the area?

If the hon. Member will read my answer I think he will understand why. All these schemes cost the taxpayer money, and I am exercising the closest possible supervision to ensure that this scheme is used to the best advantage.

Requisitioned Properties, London

36.

asked the Minister of Works how many hotels and blocks of flats in London are still requisitioned by Government Departments; and how many of these it is proposed to release to provide accommodation for foreign and overseas visitors to the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Nineteen hotels and 14 blocks of flats in Central London are held on requisition by Government Departments. It is contemplated that one hotel, the upper floors of another, four blocks of flats and a portion of another block will be derequisitioned this year by the Departments concerned, but I cannot say if these premises will then be used to provide accommodation for visitors to the Festival of Britain.

Is not the Minister aware that unless much more accommodation is made available we shall lay ourselves open to much adverse and severe criticism from overseas visitors?

I am perfectly well aware of that. We are doing our best to release these properties, but we are not responsible for how they are used after they are released. They belong to private owners and they have to decide how to use them. The Government can only step in if they consider that they are used improperly.

Does that mean that the Government are arranging for the Festival of Britain but are taking no steps to see that accommodation is available?

What the reply means is that I am not responsible for deciding how derequisitioned premises are used. I am only responsible for derequisitioning them as soon as possible, which I am endeavouring to do.

What part of London does the Minister mean when he refers to Central London?

I could not closely define it, but I should think, from memory, probably within five miles of Charing Cross.

"Daily Worker" (Building Licences)

38.

asked the Minister of Works on what system of allocation and priority were the licences of a total value of £68,610 issued since July, 1945, for the "Daily Worker" offices in Farringdon Street made; and what considerations governed the issue of these licences.

The original licence was granted in 1945, on the strong support of the Ministry of Information, because the "Daily Worker's" original premises were destroyed during the war. Subsequent licences were issued mainly because structural defects became apparent and the London County Council insisted on certain work for safety reasons.

Why is it necessary, when so many British families want homes and cannot get building licences, to grant licences to an organisation which is trying to upset our constitution?

I do not propose to go into the question of political discrimination. My responsibility is to issue licences where responsible authorities ask for them. In this case the L.C.C. asked for them for the particular reasons I stated in my answer, and the licences were granted as a matter of course.

Service Hostel, Waterloo

43.

asked the Minister of Works when he will issue a building permit for a Service women's hostel near Waterloo Station.

It has not so far been possible to grant a licence because of the restrictions on capital investment announced by the Government last October. I am, however, arranging for the application to be kept under review.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that three applications for licences have been made so far, without success? Is he further aware that the provision of suitable accommodation for Service women passing through London is deserving of much more sympathetic consideration than some of the other propositions in respect of which licences have been so lavishly issued?

I am not prepared to accept the latter part of my hon. and gallant Friend's supplementary Question, but I can assure him that I have every sympathy with the proposition and that it will not be overlooked.

Hotel, Brighton (Derequisitioning)

66.

asked the Minister of Works how many rooms in the Ocean Hotel, Saltdean, Brighton, are at present empty; how many persons are at present in occupation and receiving Fire Service training; and, having regard to the fact that the compensation payable by his Department to the owners amounts to £20 a day, why the premises are not being derequisitioned immediately.

I understand that about 60 per cent. of the accommodation at the Ocean Hotel, which has 404 small bedrooms, is at present not in use, and that over the past 12 months, in addition to the staff, there has been an average of 40 students under Fire Service instruction. It is expected that this number will rise to 60 in the near future. The building cannot be derequisitioned until other accommodation has been provided, which is expected to be some time in the latter part of next year.

Is the Minister aware that his predecessor stated in 1948, that alternative accommodation would be available within one year from that date and that we are now in 1950? In view of the Minister's concern, as expressed on Question No. 32, about the cost to the taxpayer, and the fact that this is costing the taxpayer over £7,000 a year in compensation rental, does he not think he could take more urgent steps to derequisition?

I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that long before this Parliamentary Question was put down I discussed this matter with the Home Secretary, and we agreed upon a course of action. We are doing all we possibly can to expedite derequisitioning of the building and the transfer to other accommodation.

Wales (Revenue And Expenditure)

46.

asked the Prime Minister if he will give an undertaking that the question of an inquiry into the relationship of Wales with the rest of the United Kingdom will be reexamined in the light of the experience gained during the Scottish inquiry, recently announced.

I should prefer to await the result of the inquiry into the practicability of a return of revenue and expenditure in Scotland before considering any similar question in relation to Wales. There is no desire whatever to be difficult about this matter but, as I have previously explained to the House, the practical problems involved in dividing Welsh and other United Kingdom expenditure are greater than in the case of Scotland, and I think that it would be wise to see how much progress can be made with regard to Scotland first.

Can I take it that at the conclusion of the inquiry into the Scottish position the Prime Minister will consult his Welsh colleagues, in the Government and on both sides of the House, with a view to examining the Welsh position as well?

The whole point of the examination is, first of all, to see whether it is practicable. If it is found to be impracticable in the case of Scotland, I think it will be impracticable in the case of Wales. I must await the result of the inquiry first of all. If it is found to be practicable, other consultations will take place.

Will the Prime Minister reconsider this in a more sympathetic spirit than he displayed when he was first asked about it?

International Refugee Organisation

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is in a position to make a further statement regarding the future of the International Refugee Organisation in view of the recent official statement by a senior official of the International Refugee Organisation that an attempt might now be made to prolong the organisation's activities.

No, Sir. The International Refugee Organisation have denied making any statement capable of bearing any such implication.

Tokio ("The Times" Correspondent)

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what were the passages in the reports of "The Times" correspondent at Tokio to which General MacArthur objected and to which His Majesty's Government directed the attention of the editor of "The Times."

I should like to make it clear once again that the only official action taken towards "The Times" in this matter was that as an act of courtesy the Foreign Office News Department informed a representative of "The Times" of the contents of a confidential report received from the United Kingdom Liaison Mission in Tokio. This concerned General MacArthur's attitude towards "The Times" correspondent in Japan. My right hon. Friend is not responsible for the activities of any newspaper correspondents, and I cannot discuss the substance of their reports.

If General MacArthur's report was handed by the Foreign Secretary to "The Times," are we not entitled to know the reasons for which objection was taken to those passages?

As I have said, all that General MacArthur did was that he dealt with the United Kingdom Liaison Mission and gave certain information to us which we passed on to "The Times." We did not feel that it was our responsibility or our duty to interfere in the matter.

Germany And Austria (Entry Permits)

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will now reduce the cost of travel permits to Germany and Austria.

The fees for entry permits to Germany and Austria are fixed by agreement with the United States and French authorities and can be modified only by agreement with them. The level of fees is under consideration and I share my hon. and gallant Friend's desire that they should be as low as possible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a motor tour of Germany and Austria may cost a person as much as £2 18s. for entry and exit permits? Will he consult with the other Powers concerned with a view to decreasing the cost?

I cannot understand why the cost should be as high as my hon. and gallant Friend suggests, for the fee for repeated transit visas for a person is only 14s. 6d.

Egyptian Note (Publication)

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the recent case in which details of a note from the Egyptian Government to His Majesty's Government appeared in the Press before His Majesty's Government received it, he will effect an arrangement with the Egyptian Government whereby such notes are always communicated to His Majesty's Government before their release to the Press.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that it is a desirable practice that a Government should not release to the Press the contents of a Note before it has been delivered to the representative of the Government to which it is addressed. I have this matter under consideration.

Will the Minister say what action he has taken with the Egyptian Government because this concerned a very important question? Surely the release to the Press prejudiced the whole case before His Majesty's Government had any time to comment on it.

I think the importance of the Note must be open to question, because His Majesty's Government have not received it.

Herr Wurmann

54.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has made full inquiries into the political background of Herr Wurmann, recently appointed German Vice-Consul in London; and whether Herr Wurmann is acceptable to His Majesty's Government as a holder of this post.

55.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that Herr Wurmann who has been nominated as the new Vice-Consul in London for the Bonn Republic is an admirer of Hitler and has intimated that he agrees with Hitler's policy which directed the deliberate murder of millions of Jews; and whether he will take steps to prevent him from taking up this appointment.

56.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the political opinions of the Bonn Vice-Consul, Mr. Wurmann, which reveal definite anti-Jewish opinions and actions, what inquiries were made previous to agreeing to his appointment.

The German Consul-General has stated that Herr Wurmann is not and will not become a member of his staff in London.

Could my hon. Friend say whether this gentleman was declared persona non grata, or it is a fact that he was not actually appointed to the position?

The position is that he has not been appointed. The German Consul-General has said that he is not a member of the staff, that his name was only on the list of applicants and that he has not been chosen.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the Bonn authorities that this type of view is abhorrent to the people of this country and that people who hold such views will not be accepted in any way in responsible positions here?

That is quite well understood; it is certainly understood by the present German Consul-General, who has taken this stand in the matter.

Unesco (British Delegation's Expenses)

58.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what expenses were incurred in respect of travelling, board and lodging by the British delegation to the recent United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's conference; over what period they were incurred; and by whom they were borne.

I have been asked to reply. The expenses for travelling amounted to £1,077 and for board and lodging to £1,563. They were incurred over a period of five weeks from 15th May to 19th June. Of the total £2,640, £2,497 will be borne on the Vote of the Ministry of Education and £143 by the British Council. The foregoing figures are not final but have been assessed as accurately as possible at this stage.

Does the Minister consider that these expenses were justified by the results of the conference and does he consider that the results of the conference justify the absence of the permanent head of his Department during the whole of that period?

Are there not additional expenses to be borne by this country through their share in the total budget of U.N.E.S.C.O.?

These are the expenses of the delegates who attended the conference at Florence, as accurately as we can assess them at the present time.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, in the view of most people, money spent on the support of the cultural and constructive activities of the United Nations is always well spent?

Middle East (Arms Supplies)

60.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when it is intended to fulfil the three-Power arrangements to permit Israel to purchase arms for the purposes referred to in the statement recently signed in this respect.

61.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the three-Power Statement on the supply of arms to the Middle East, to which His Majesty's Government was a signatory, it is now intended to allow Israel to purchase arms in this country.

His Majesty's Government have this matter under immediate review and I hope to make a further statement on the subject shortly.

Will my hon. Friend, when dealing with this matter, consider that there is a large amount of bewilderment on the arms question, in view of the fact that Israel is prepared to sign terms of peace whereas the surrounding Arab nations state quite categorically that they decline to do so?

House Of Commons Catering

62.

asked the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, on how many days in 1949 a considerable amount of food was left on the Refreshment Department's hands as a result of the House rising unexpectedly early; and what was the estimated financial loss resulting thereby.

Food is always left on the Refreshment Department's hands when the House rises at an unexpected time. It is served mostly in some other form, but the price realised is bound to involve a loss. I am unable to give the number of days on which this occurred or the actual loss sustained.

As the Kitchen Committee suggested that their enormous losses were made because of the fact that the House has to sit late, cannot the hon. Gentleman give some figures to prove his contention?

I think the hon. Member is totally incorrect in suggesting for a moment that the total loss was incurred in the direction he indicated.