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Commons Chamber

Volume 476: debated on Monday 26 June 1950

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House Of Commons

Monday, 26th June, 1950

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Gateshead And District Tramways Bill Lords

Read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.

Derby Corporation Bill Lords

DOVER CORPORATION BILL [Lords]

DOVER HARBOUR BILL [Lords]

GLOUCESTER EXTENSION BILL [ Lords]

PLYMOUTH EXTENSION BILL [ Lords]

WISBECH CORPORATION BILL [ Lords]

Read a Second time, and committed.

South Shields Extension Bill (By Order)

Consideration, as amended, deferred till Wednesday at Seven o'clock.

Bath Extension Bill Lords (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Thursday.

Dover Harbour Money

Committee to consider of authorising, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to authorise the Dover Harbour Board to construct new works and for other purposes, the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of such sums as may be necessary to enable the said Board to be reimbursed all or part of the expenses reasonably incurred by them in the exercise of powers in relation to vessels sunk stranded or abandoned in Dover Harbour ( King's Recommendation signified), tomorrow.—[ The Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Cattewater Harbour Money

Resolution reported:

"That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to confirm a Provisional Order made by the Minister of Transport under the General Pier and Harbour Act, 1861, to make provision for the removal of wrecks and for other purposes it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament, of such sums as may be necessary to enable the Admiralty and the Minister of Transport to reimburse to the Cattewater Commissioners all or part of the expenses reasonably incurred by the said Commissioners in the exercise by the said Commissioners of powers in relation to certain vessels sunk stranded or abandoned in Cattewater Harbour."

Resolution agreed to.

Aberdeen Harbour Order Confirmation Bill

"to confirm a Provisional Order under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936, relating to Aberdeen Harbour," presented by Mr. McNeil; and ordered (under Section 7 of the Act) to be considered tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 39.]

Oral Answers To Questions

Roads

Underpasses

1.

asked the Minister of Transport how many proposals have been put forward by local authorities for building underpasses at busy traffic junctions instead of roundabouts or other crossings at the same level.

I have not received any proposals by local authorities for dealing in this way with existing traffic junctions, although I understand underpasses are contemplated in connection with some schemes of future road or bridge construction. I have plans for four underpasses at junctions on trunk roads.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this form of traffic junction is about the best for ensuring the least possible amount of congestion, and will he do everything possible to encourage local authorities to adopt it?

The fact that I have indicated that we have four schemes under consideration on trunk roads shows our interest in this type of underpass, but every case must be considered on its merits. A very important aspect at present is that of cost.

Pedestrian Crossings

2.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has now reached any final decision regarding the rights of pedestrians. at controlled pedestrian crossings; and whether it is his intention to deal with this matter by new regulations or by giving guidance to road users in the Highway Code.

7.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the need for greater uniformity in the marking of pedestrian crossings; and when he proposes to make regulations to secure this end.

I have not yet reached a final decision on this matter, since various aspects of the question have required careful examination, including recent reports by the Road Research Laboratory on the experimental marking of pedestrian crossings with black and white stripes and on the illumination of crossings at night. I hope to make a further statement soon.

In view of the congestion in Central London and the need for an even flow of traffic, will the right hon. Gentleman expedite his announcement so that pedestrians know where they stand, because the present uncertainty is most unsatisfactory to all concerned?

I certainly share the concern of the hon. and gallant Member. It will be recalled that, a little while ago, I indicated that legal difficulties have intervened in this very complex problem. We are pushing on with the examination as quickly as possible, and I hope to be in a position to make a statement before very long.

Signposts (London)

8.

asked the Minister of Transport if the promised system of new signposting between Dover and London has now been completed; and to what extent he is satisfied with the signposting in the London area itself.

The new signposting between Dover and London has been completed except in Southwark. Work in that Metropolitan borough is in progress, and I consider that when it has been completed the signposting of this particular route in London will be satisfactory.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if he were now to agree to accept my challenge to go out of this building and try to find his way to Dover by his own signposts he would be lost in the first five minutes?

10.

asked the Minister of Transport what part of London is indicated on the signposts on Eastern Avenue when the distance to London is given.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in the case of many of these signposts, this is not so, and will he accept my assurance that when I tried it the other night I finished up near Finsbury Park?

I would not altogether accept the guidance of the hon. Gentleman in that direction. The Question asked whether there was an indication of locality when distance was given. Where the hon. Gentleman finishes up is a matter for him.

Does the Minister realise that it was the direction on the signposts that landed me at Finsbury Park? Most of them are sheer nonsense. Would he look into the matter?

Conway Bridge

11.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware of the dangerous condition of Conway Bridge and the considerable congestion of traffic caused by its inadequacy; and when he is likely to be in a position to invite tenders for the construction of a new bridge across the River Conway.

I am aware of the conditions at Conway. Designs have been got out for a new bridge, but I am unable to say when it will be possible to start construction.

Is the Minister aware that, owing to the condition of the bridge, the Bridge commissioners have recently imposed restrictions on commercial vehicles crossing it, thus causing increased operating costs? Would he make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make additional funds available for this kind of essential work?

The representations which I make to my right hon. and learned Friend are not confined to Conway; they cover many similar propositions.

Traffic Conditions, Durham

12.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the dangerous traffic situation in Silver Street in Durham City; and if he can give any information as to the steps his Department proposes to take to alleviate the danger.

I am aware of the conditions at this place and, as my hon. Friend knows, I arranged for a local inquiry in 1946. The initiative in this matter rests with the city and county councils. I informed them of my general agreement with the recommendation made in the report of the inquiry and they have been in consultation with each other and with my divisional road engineer with a view to the preparation of an agreed scheme.

Is the Minister aware that when negotiating Silver Street a person is exposed to the danger of a serious accident? I raised this matter four years ago, when I was told that the report of the local inquiry was being considered. Does not the Minister think that after this long period something tangible ought to be put forward in an endeavour to solve the problem?

This is a serious problem, but my hon. Friend ought to know that some of the delay in getting an agreed scheme is due to the divergence of local opinion.

Eton

14.

asked the Minister of Transport whether his attention has been called to the dangerous crowding of the north-south road which passes through Eton; and when the construction of the projected by-pass via Bray, including a new bridge across the Thames, may be expected.

I am aware of the conditions of the road through Eton, and I understand that the local authorities concerned are examining the possibility of an alternative north-south road. I am unable to say when sufficient resources will be available for the construction of the new bridge and the east-west by-pass via Bray.

In view of the heavy traffic that passes down the narrow lane which is the High Street of Eton and crosses that willow pattern bridge into Windsor, and the vicious corner opposite Eton College, will my right hon. Friend add this road to the list of those to be presented to the Chancellor.

Toll Bridge, Hayling Island

15.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the acute congestion caused on the road from Havant to Hayling Island by the existence of the toll bridge; and if he will take steps to have the toll bridge freed at an early date.

I am aware of the conditions on this road. The initiative for freeing the bridge from tolls rests with the local authorities concerned. I regret that I cannot now undertake to give any immediate assistance from the Road Fund.

In view of the fact that at Whitsun it took some hundreds of cars nearly as long to do the last eight miles from Havant to South Hayling as to do the 60 miles from London to Havant, cannot the right hon. Gentleman take some hastening action?

No, Sir, I cannot, because my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated some time ago to this House that one of the savings which I had to effect was in connection with toll bridges.

Clapham

16.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that Larkhall Rise and Larkhall Lane, Clapham, is a busy traffic road which has no traffic lights; and whether, in view of the fact that the junction of Gaskell Street and Larkhall Lane are very dangerous to schoolchildren, he will arrange for traffic lights to be placed at this spot as soon as possible.

Traffic conditions in these streets are being examined by the local authority and my Department to see what steps can be taken to improve them. I have not so far received any application for the approval of traffic lights at the junction with Gaskell Street, but one relating to the junction with Union Road is being considered.

Will the Minister do his best to hurry up these local inquiries, and, in those inquiries, consider also this question of the Gaskell Street crossing where there have been a number of fatal accidents, one only a few days ago?

Carriageway, Parliament Square

67.

asked the Minister of Works what is to be the width of the new carriageway in Parliament Square; and how this compares with the width of the existing one which is to be superseded.

The new carriageway in Parliament Square will be a uniform width of 50 feet. The existing carriageway which will be superseded varies in width from 58 to 65 feet.

I am aware that this was done by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, but does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the result of having a narrow carriageway will be to increase congestion instead of diminishing it?

I can only say that things are not always what they seem. The police authorities, the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport have been into this matter, and they are concerned that the space available should be enough for what is known as weaving. The weaving length is being increased from 82 feet to 182 feet. I agree that the carriageway is narrower, but the transport authorities and police are satisfied that that is all right.

Train Fire, Scotland

5.

asked the Minister of Transport what action was taken as a result of the report, dated 16th January, 1950, on the fire which occurred in an express passenger train on 23rd June, 1949, at Penmanstuch Tunnel in the Scottish Region, British Railways.

The serious issues raised in the Report, of which I sent the hon. and gallant Member a copy on 2nd June, are receiving the close attention of the British Transport Commission. The batch of about 30 coaches which had been sprayed with this particular cellulose lacquer, were withdrawn from service immediately after the accident. Other coaches in which cellulose lacquers of any kind may have been used are being tested for fire risk as they pass through the shops for repair, and preventive precautions are being taken as may be suitable. The attention of the associations concerned with the manufacture and use of passenger road transport vehicles has been specially drawn to the Report.

In case this lacquer might be used on other forms of transport, will the Minister bring it to the notice of all concerned?

I was under the impression that I had done that, but I will again look at the list of associations to make sure that they are all covered.

Would the right hon. Gentleman send a copy of this Report to the associations dealing with this particular industry?

Hamble River (Pollution)

13.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that on the morning of Saturday, 17th June, large mases of semisolid tarry oil floated into the Hamble river, extensively damaging the paintwork of vessels, and fouling their gear so that it could only be thrown away, finally covering the foreshore so that visitors may not use it for a considerable time to come; and whether he will institute an inquiry into this nuisance.

I was not aware of this incident, but, as the mouth of the Hamble river is within the jurisdiction of the Southampton Harbour Board, I have been in communication with that board. They have informed me that they have investigated the matter and have not been able to trace the source of the pollution.

Is not the Minister aware that vessels lying in that river pay very heavy dues for the privilege of doing so, and does he not agree that they are entitled to a certain amount of active protection against this expensive menace?

This is, of course, very annoying indeed, but it is a matter for the Southampton Harbour Board, and, so far, they have been unable to give me any indication as to how the nuisance has arisen.

What action does my right hon. Friend contemplate taking should he find the source of the pollution in this particular case?

Could the Minister look at the matter rather more generally because there are constant complaints in Spithead and the Solent about masses of oil coming down and being deposited on the beaches, besides doing damage to vessels?

I will certainly pursue the investigations farther than I have so far been able to do at the short notice at my disposal.

Ministry Of Supply

Steel Prices

18.

asked the Minister of Supply why price control regulations remain necessary for steel, rolled and re-rolled steel products and wire, excepting only steel sheet and tinplate.

Iron and steel prices are controlled in conformity with the Government's policy of maintaining over as wide a field as possible low and stable prices of essential commodities.

Is the Minister aware that as a result of continued price control many manufacturers who are steel consumers are deprived of selective buying advantages? Would he consider price decontrolling those items of steel of which an abundant supply is available?

Dismantled Tanks (Sale)

20.

asked the Minister of Supply if he is aware that dismantled Sherman and Churchill tanks, stripped of their armaments, are, by arrangement with American and British dealers, now being sold at substantial profits and finally shipped to a Mediterranean seaport; and what check on destination the Disposals Board has kept on the recent big purchases by British dealers who trade in scrap metal for export.

The bulk of these tanks is sold as scrap under contracts which provide that the tanks should be broken up and the scrap metal re-melted. Dismantled Sherman and Churchill tanks, which can be used as vehicles, have been -sold to the highest competitive bidders. I have no information about any re-sales, but the Board of Trade keep a check on overseas destinations of such tanks, when dealing with applications for export licences.

Is not the Minister aware that these tanks are being sold to Palestine despite the declaration by the Western Powers that that country already has sufficient defensive weapons for its needs?

No, Sir, I am not aware where these vehicles have gone. Vehicles which are sent abroad are completely demilitarised; they are sold as tractors and as vehicles useful in other directions.

Official Car Pool

21.

asked the Minister of Supply what are the overtime rates paid to chauffeurs of official cars waiting outside this House during late Sittings; and how many of these drivers waited till 6.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15th June.

Overtime rates paid to chauffeurs of official cars are 3s. 1d. an hour for the first two hours each day and 3s. 8¼d. thereafter. No driver waited until 6.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15th June, but twelve drivers reported at the House for duty between 6.30 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Does the Minister consider that keeping men up to these late hours in order to drive Ministers only a short distance from this House is in accord with the best principles?

I do not think that the right hon. and gallant Member could have heard my reply. No cars were kept there all night. Certain cars reported for duty at 6.30 a.m.

What is the latest hour of the night or early morning to which official cars are kept with drivers as a matter of normal routine?

There is no normal routine in the matter of the latest hour. No car was kept on that particular morning after 2.30.

Motor Cars (Distribution)

22.

asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction at the present method of distribution of new motor cars; and whether he will bring in legislation to introduce controls to ensure a more just system.

24.

asked the Minister of Supply if he will inquire into the present method of allocating new motor cars to purchasers in the home market, with a view to finding means of removing the dissatisfaction with the existing arrangements.

The shortage of cars in the home market is bound to lead to complaints about methods of distribution. I am satisfied that the reintroduction of a statutory control would not be justified.

Is the Minister aware that I can supply him with numerous examples of people having obtained four or five new cars in the past four years, and that an "under the counter" system of distribution is now in full swing? Will my right hon. Friend take some steps to remedy this disreputable practice?

I agree with my hon. Friend; I believe that there has been a measure of abuse in this matter, though I think it has been considerably exaggerated. I have recently been in touch with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, who have arranged to try to tighten up their controls.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large number of 1949 models are being advertised in the Press, especially in the local Press in Birmingham, which is causing considerable dissatisfaction among some of my constituents who have been waiting for three years for cars?

I have heard of that practice, but I have also heard that when an applicant goes to buy one of those cars he usually finds that it is not there.

In view of the importance of this question and the knowledge in my possession, I propose to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Public Relations Employee (Suspension)

23.

asked the Minister of Supply on what date Mr. Pat Dooley was suspended from work in the public relations department of the Ministry; what was his employment at the time of his suspension; what were the reasons for his suspension; what was his salary at the time; what is the total amount of money that has been paid to him since his suspension; and what is his present employment.

Mr. Dooley, who was employed as editor of "R.O.F. News", was sent on special leave with pay on 7th May, 1948, because he was regarded as coming within the scope of the Prime Minister's statement of 15th March, 1948. His salary then was £916 16s. a year and £1,451 12s. was paid to him whilst he was on special leave. This special leave and payment to him ceased on 30th November, 1949, when his employment with the Department was finally terminated.

Has the Minister any information as to the present whereabouts of this gentleman, as to why his employment has been terminated, and whether he is now working for the Cominform in Eastern Europe?

Ministry Of Works

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.

Coal Industry

Supplies

69.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he has considered details which have been sent to him of coal delivered to Mr. Whitmore of South Darenth, near Dartford, Kent; why Mr. Whitmore had to pay £1 12s. 11d. for six cwt. of best house coal on 17th May, whereas he paid £1 18s. 7d. for eight cwt. of the same coal on 16th February, 1950; and what is the reason for the difference of approximately 13s. 2d. per ton.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has written to the hon. Member and has explained that Mr. Whitmore did not buy the same coal on 16th February and 17th May. In May he bought coal of a better quality, the price of which was 7s. 6d. per ton more than that of the coal which he bought in February. In May, the price of the coal he bought was increased by the rise in railway rates and by the higher costs of local delivery.

In view of the fact that the cost was increased by the folly of Governmental action, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to see it does not occur in the future?

If the customers buy different grades of coal they will pay different prices.

Has Mr. Whitmore any opportunity to decide what kind of coal he shall have?

He not only decided what kind of coal to buy, but he paid a different price.

As to that I am not informed. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question.

74.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that there are insufficient supplies of small anthracite fuel in the South-East area; and if he will take immediate steps to remedy this.

For some time now there has not been sufficient anthracite to meet the demand, which has been steadily increasing since the war. The shortage is general, and is not confined to any area. It is most desirable, in the national interest, to increase the exports of anthracite. I am afraid I cannot, therefore, hold out the hope of any early or substantial inmprovement in domestic supplies. Coke, however, is plentiful in most districts, and is a suitable alternative for nearly all cooking and heating stoves and boilers.

Is the Minister aware that small anthracite fuel is essential for the Aga and Esse types of cookers? Is he aware that the fuel overseer at Seven-oaks stated only a fortnight ago that no merchant in the entire area had any anthracite fuel? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about it?

The Aga cooker is designed for coke, and the manufacturers of the Esse cooker say that coke, if properly used, will do very well. Anthracite smalls—what are called beans, peas, and grains—are needed for automatic feed boilers, and they are kept for that purpose.

76.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will make a statement on the prospects of an increase in the domestic ration of coal for the forthcoming winter.

As the hon. Member is no doubt aware, there is no ration of coal which all consumers are entitled to receive. Maximum quantifies are fixed up to which householders may purchase coal, if supplies are available. As at present advised I expect that the quantities which householders may buy next winter, if supplies are available, will remain the same as in the last coal year; but, as the supplies will be increased, I hope that the actual deliveries will be more.

Does the Minister think that that answer can be fully co-ordinated with his recent public statement that householders could very soon expect a bigger ration of coal?

I did not use the word "ration," because rationing for coal was rejected years ago, and the present system is thought to be more desirable. I said the other day that there will be more coal for the domestic consumers. There will be at least one million tons more coal this year, and I hope there will be even more. That quantity, of course, will mean that deliveries to householders will be greater.

Opencast Mining, Worcestershire

70.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the detailed reasons for the abandonment by his Department of opencast mining proposals on the Sites M/9/550/1, Crundle, and M/9/551/1, The Elms, in the Martley Rural District of Western Worcestershire.

The proposals for the opencast working of coal at Crundle and The Elms have not been abandoned. A meeting with the Worcestershire County Council will shortly be held to consider the programme of prospecting in the county.

Accidents, West Midlands

77.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he has any statement to make on the increased accident and fatal accident rate in the West Midland coalfield for 1949; and what improvements are being made in safety measures and precautions.

During the period 1939 to 1944 the average number of miners killed and seriously injured per year in the West Midlands Division was 392. The corresponding number during the period 1945 to 1949 was 268. During the last 10 years, therefore, there has been a satisfactory downward trend. Unfortunately, the number of killed and seriously injured in 1949 was 273; that is to say, slightly above the average for the last five years. The Divisional Coal Board and His Majesty's inspectors of mines are intensifying their efforts to prevent the accidents from which these casualties result. They hope for the cooperation of every worker in the mines.

Petrol Supplies

De-Rationing (Staff Releases)

72.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what staff and premises have been released as a result of derationing petrol; and what expense has been saved.

One thousand seven hundred and forty temporary officers of my Department are under notice of discharge, as the result of the derationing of petrol. In addition, 280 established officers are being transferred by the Treasury to other Departments. The annual cost of the salaries saved is about £700,000. The premises which were formerly used as regional petroleum offices are being handed back to the Ministry of Works, who provided and paid for them. I cannot, therefore, say what savings will he made by their release.

I am glad of this opportunity to express again, as I did on 26th May, the gratitude of the Government, and, I believe, of the whole House, to the temporary and permanent officers who, over a period of years, so loyally and ably carried through the difficult task of administering the rationing of petrol.

Dollar Cost

75.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what will be the dollar cost of petrol this financial year and in a full financial year, respectively; and what is the anticipated increase in petrol consumption over last year.

I estimate that imports of motor spirit into the United Kingdom in the financial year 1950–51 from dollar sources, involving payment in dollars, will cost about 35 million dollars (£12½ million). There is also, of course, a dollar element in the oil produced by British companies; but, as I said on 15th May, in answer to the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot), it is impossible to say how much of this should be attributed to the petrol which they bring here.

I said when petrol was de-rationed, on 26th May, that it might mean an increased consumption of about one million tons a year. It is too soon to say whether this estimate is right, but, in any event, this will not affect the figure I have given since the additional petrol imported from dollar sources as a result of de-rationing will be paid for in sterling.

I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned 35 million dollars. What rate of exchange did he use to reduce them to pounds?

Electricity Headquarters, Halesowen

73.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the sum licensed by his Department for the extension of the head quarters of the Midlands Electricity Board at Mucklows Hill, Halesowen, in the county of Worcester; and the quantities of steel, timber, bricks and cement that will be required for that extension.

A licence for work costing £59,000 was issued by my predecessor. The British Electricity Authority estimate that when the work is completed it will have required 139 tons of steel, 5.1 standards of timber, 410,000 bricks, and 245 tons of cement.

May I ask the Minister whether he heard the Minister of Works say five minutes ago that top priority should be given to housing? Could not these officials and clerks have been put into Nissen huts, so that these materials could have been devoted to the 2,000 homeless families in Kidderminster?