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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 478: debated on Monday 18 September 1950

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Food Supplies

Commonwealth Producers (Contracts)

1.

asked the Minister of Food how far it is his Department's practice when making bulk purchase contracts for butter, cheese and other foodstuffs to offer preferential prices to producers in the British Commonwealth and Empire.

I am always anxious to get as much as I can of these commodities from Commonwealth producers, and, in general, I am taking all that they can send. The question of giving any form of preference under these contracts to Commonwealth producers does not, however, arise because I am still bound to obtain as much as I can of these commodities at reasonable prices from all sources, and in any case bulk purchase contracts must be based primarily on commercial considerations.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he is willing to pay to the Dominions prices at least as good as those he pays to foreign countries, and that he is not trying to trade on the good will and loyalty of Dominion producers?

I am not trying to trade on the good will of anybody. I am trying to get prices that are favourable to us and to them in every circumstance.

Russian Crabmeat

2.

asked the Minister of Food what losses were incurred by his Department on the shipment of Russian crabmeat from the United Kingdom to the United States of America, which American dockers recently refused to unload from the s.s. "Parthia."

3.

asked the Minister of Food the total value of the Russian crabmeat shipped by his Department from the United Kingdom to the United States of America during the current year.

Can the Minister say how he reconciles this transaction, which, according to American papers, amounts to far more than that sum, with the Prime Minister's recent declaration that the machinery going to Russia was being used for the import into this country of valuable feedingstuffs and timber, whereas in point of fact it seems to be used for the shipment to America of crabmeat which is not wanted, and on which we shall have a loss?

The larger part of this trade took place a long time ago—long before the considerations the hon. Gentleman has in mind arose.

Is it not a fact that there have been three shipments of crabmeat to the United States in the last three or four weeks?

4.

asked the Minister of Food how much crabmeat has been purchased by his Department from the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics during the past two years; and to whom it has been sold.

Two thousand four hundred and seventy tons. Some has been sold in this country and some has been re-exported, mainly to America.

How can the right hon. Gentleman reconcile the reply he has just given with his reply to an earlier supplementary question, when I understood him to say that this crabmeat transaction took place years and years ago, long before there was any question of orders from Russia?

In that case, when the right hon. Gentleman looks at his answer again he will find that he definitely misled his hearers in the House.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the attention of the United States' authorities has been drawn to the fact that this attempt to conduct foreign policy by strikes is doing harm to this country and none to the Soviet Union?

Was any of this crabmeat offered to the Kitchen Committee of the House of Commons?

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how one can distinguish between Communist crab and capitalist crab?

18.

asked the Minister of Food how often in August were shipments of Russian crabmeat made by his Department to the United States of America; in how many cases did the American dockers refuse to unload this cargo; what was the value of the shipments and the losses incurred; and, in view of the resentment caused in the United States of America, if he will give an assurance that no further shipments of this sort will be made.

Five shipments worth just over £95,000 were made during August. All have been or are being returned. I cannot say until the goods are sold what profit or loss will result. In reply to the last part of the Question, I can only say that I have no immediate intention of resuming shipment to America of this crabmeat.

Is it not particularly unfortunate that, during the war in Korea, American public opinion should be further disturbed by this abortive attempt on the part of the Ministry of Food to ship Russian goods to the United States in British disguise?

Can the Ministry say if these particular shipments of crabmeat were bought by American importers?

Imported Apples

5.

asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the heavy home crop of apples, he has set any limit to the importation of eating apples from Italy and cider apples from France.

No arrangements have yet been made for imports of eating apples this season from any source, but, in considering what should be done, the position of the home crop will certainly be kept in mind. Cider apples are imported by private traders under licence, but no licences have so far been issued this season.

How, then, does it happen that Italian eating applies are being offered by greengrocers today at a time when there are ample supplies of good quality English eating applies?

Does my right hon. Friend realise that any limitation on the importation of eating apples would be strongly resented by consumers unless the distribution of home stocks can be made more effective, and their prices maintained at reasonable levels?

Will the Minister say why Italian apples are, in fact, being offered in the shops at the present time?

In considering his policy, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the mistakes made in previous years and the great losses suffered as a consequence?

There is no need for great excitement about this. We are working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, and are aware of the crops of apples from home producers. All the time we are endeavouring to arrive at arrangements which on balance, I think, are fair to both producers and consumers.

Would the Minister not agree that there would be less excitement had he not started this mystery by refusing to say why Italian apples are in the shops?

11.

asked the Minister of Food what quantities of apples, apple pulp and apple juice have been imported during the last six months.

The figures are as follows: cider apples, none; other apples, 90,089 tons; unsweetened apple juice, 110 gallons concentrated, 9,215 gallons unconcentrated. There are no separate figures for apple pulp and sweetened apple juice.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that in Devon we have been encouraged to plant cider apple trees over a long term of years; that this year apples are the one good crop we are able to harvest, and that owing to the Minister's importation policy we cannot sell any of them?

I cannot think—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is a cheap joke. I am just as capable of thinking as anyone on the other side. That is a silly joke to make. I repeat that I cannot think that the figure of 9,000 gallons of apple juice is really a considerable amount when we consider that 22 million gallons of cider were produced last year.

As, unfortunately, several thousand tons of good apples have been blown down recently throughout Kent, will the Minister not purchase those apples before they rot? Otherwise, in another week or two they will rot, and we shall lose those thousands of tons of apples.

There is another question down on that point. I am not sure whether it is down today, but I have notice of it, and will answer it.

Can the Minister say how much apple juice there was in the country at the beginning of this year?

As the Minister has said that he cannot afford to allow more sugar to go to cider manufacturers, what is the use of importing apple juice?

Does not my right hon. Friend think that the British farmer would be a little more successful in this free competition if he packed, graded and marketed his apples rather better?

13.

asked the Minister of Food what regulations he has made with regard to the importing of French apple juice and the mixing of it with home-produced apple juice and the selling of the mixture as Devonshire cider.

Apple juice and raw cider may be imported from France under open general licence and there is no restriction on their use in making cider in this country. Whether cider made in Devonshire wholly or partly from imported apple juice can properly be described as Devonshire cider could only be decided by the courts.

Will the Minister take steps to see that cider made out of foreign apple juice is sold as made from foreign apple juice and not under a Devonshire name?

It is up to the private traders to be honest in their definitions and their trade marks.

14.

asked the Minister of Food what steps he proposes to take to encourage the production and sale of cider apples in this country and to protect home producers against foreign imports.

I understand that the present production of cider apples is sufficient to meet the demand. Sales are not controlled in any way but the amount cider manufacturers can take up depends partly on the amount of sugar we can afford to let them have. No cider apples have been imported so far this season. I am afraid, however, that the limiting factor here is the falling off of public demand for cider. There are no steps I can take to alter that situation.

Will the Minister take steps to limit the amount of foreign imports of apples and cider apples?

Will the Minister now say why foreign apples are on the market in this country?

Can the Minister give an assurance that the allocation of sugar to manufacturers will not be conditional, as it has been in the past, upon their taking up some of these surplus and unwanted foreign imports?

Sugar for manufacturers is determined solely by the amount of sugar available.

Is the Minister aware of the great anxiety about this in some parts of the country, and does he propose to do anything about it at all?

Brislings

6.

asked the Minister of Food what was the cost of his advertising campaign to sell brislings; and what stocks now remain.

About £10,000. I do not think it would be in the public interest to disclose the stocks my Department holds.

Is the Minister aware that his Parliamentary Secretary told me by letter that the object of this advertising was so that the trade could be returned to private business as soon as possible? Will he give an assurance that he will carry out that policy on every possible occasion?

That may have been one part of the letter sent by the Parliamentary Secretary, but there were others, too. It is our desire in the case of all commodities of this kind, where supplies are adequate, to return them to private trade.

Are we to assume from the answer that the advertising has been useless, because the Minister has still got his original stocks of brislings?

On the contrary, the advertising has been very valuable to us and the private trade, so much so that I have had one letter from a firm of canners in the private trade who have taken the trouble to say that they hope we will continue the advertising.

Would it not be better to advertise the high nutritive value and good quality of the Cornish pilchard?

Meat Ration

7.

asked the Minister of Food whether he can make any announcement about the level of the meat ration for the remainder of this year.

I generally prefer not to speculate about ration levels, but I think I can safely say that the meat ration will not vary very much over the next month or so.

Is there not an abundance of home-produced meat available, and would it not greatly benefit the consumer if this trade was largely freed from Government control?

There is a very large quantity of home-produced meat available now. Unfortunately, one of the limiting factors is the absence of slaughterhouse and labour capacity to take advantage of all the meat we have. On the whole, we are making available to the consumer all the home-killed meat, but I cannot speculate in advance of the next month or two in the light of the Argentine and other negotiations now taking place.

When will the right hon. Gentleman realise that if the Government attempt to break the law of supply and demand that law will break them and the country?

Dried Fruit

9.

asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that he is making arrangements to ensure an adequate supply of dried fruit so that housewives may make their Christmas puddings; and whether this year he will secure a fairer division as between the housewife and the manufacturer.

An allocation of currants and sultanas to the full extent of our available supplies will be made on 8th October, and should reach the shops in good time for Christmas. I do not think housewives have been unfairly treated in the past. Actually, more dried fruit is sold by retail for home consumption than before the war, whereas manufacturers as a whole receive only about 50 per cent. of their pre-war usage.

Will the Minister see if he can make a general statement about Christmas rations before the House rises, instead of making it to the newspapers when the House is not here?

Since my right hon. Friend is a Lancashire man sitting for a Yorkshire constituency, does not he realise that there is a difference between the North and the South in this matter, and that Northern housewives much prefer to make their own. Christmas cakes instead of buying them in the shops?

Yes, and I hope they will find adequate supplies of currants and sultanas, though not raisins, for their purpose.

Imports From Russia

10.

asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that there will be a continued supply of corn and foodstuffs in the event of supplies from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and from Russian-controlled countries being cut off.

Supplies would continue but they might not be so great, because, obviously, the field in which we purchase would be narrowed. But if the situation mentioned in the Question ever arose the Government would, naturally, use every endeavour to maintain adequate supplies of all necessary foods.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the fullest use will be made of Empire and home-produced supplies?

Is it not now desirable that the home oat crop should be guaranteed in price beyond 1952, so that increased acreages may be planned?

Can the Minister tell us what percentage of feedingstuffs is coming from Russia at present?

Government Stocks

12.

asked the Minister of Food why, when issuing permission for the sale of foods at home or abroad, he makes it a condition that a percentage of the foods sold shall include foods from stocks held by the Government at a price fixed by the Government even though it is higher than the market price.

I do not know exactly what sort of transaction the hon. Member has in mind, but I shall be pleased to look into any instance that he can quote.

Margarine Ration

15.

asked the Minister of Food what representations he has received from local food committees that margarine need no longer be rationed; and what action he is taking.

However inactive food committees may have been, is not the fact that nothing like the full rationed quantity of margarine is being bought—people are so hard up—a pointer that margarine might be de-rationed?

The Question asked what representations I have received. I have received none.

Crops Damage

16.

asked the Minister of Food what arrangements he proposes to make to counteract the bad harvest and the consequent loss in home-produced food.

19.

asked the Minister of Food if he is making any special provision to obtain food from other countries to make up for the damage that our own crops have sustained due to recent storms.

It is too soon yet finally to assess the damage done to crops but we do not expect that the estimates of yields on which our import programme was based will need to be revised to any material extent.

Does the Minister realise that the stockpiling of food is one of the most essential factors in any policy of re-armament?

I am not dealing with the stockpiling of food. That is not the original Question.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he will not purchase goods from foreign countries in preference to those from the Empire to make up for what we have lost this year in England?

When we know the exact results of loss in harvest we shall decide on the necessary adjustments to our import programme.

But will the Minister give an assurance that he will not get the food from foreign countries but from the Empire or other friendly countries?

Holiday Resorts (Rationed Foods)

17.

asked the Minister of Food on what system additional rationed foodstuffs are made available during the season at holiday resorts.

These extra supplies are based on the nearest corresponding period of the previous year. We issue supplementary permits to meet any current needs which arise.

Is the Minister aware that it was possible to buy half-a-dozen tins of salmon, and what was described as any amount of ham and tongue, at a shop in Torquay in August? Will he bear in mind there is much dissatisfaction in the north-west because there are not enough of these commodities to go round? Will he review the position?

It is the hon. Gentleman's duty to give me evidence of that transaction in Torquay so that the necessary legal action can be taken.

Transport

Commission (Report)

20.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has yet received the report of the Transport Commission for 1949; and when it is proposed to publish it.

24.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has yet received the report of the British Transport Commission for 1949; and when it will be published.

I expect the report and statement of accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1949 to be published towards the end of this week.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate how very inconvenient it is to hon. Members if they have to wait until very nearly 1951 before getting the report of the Commission for 1949? Will he convey to the Commission our displeasure in the matter and urge them to do their job properly next year?

I think that when I dealt with the question before the House rose in July I indicated that it is always desirable to get these accounts out as quickly as possible. They are enormous accounts and there have been one or two delays, as I said then, but they will be published towards the end of this week. I am not aware that that will cause the House any inconvenience.

Is the Minister aware that it is over two months since he told us that the report was almost complete and that printing was well in hand? Bearing in mind that it will be almost out of date by the time hon. Members receive it, will he please administer to the Transport Commission an expression of his displeasure and that of the House?

The hon. Member could not have read the reply I gave him in July, because I said then that I would publish the report in September.

In view of the long delay and the vastness of the accounts, to which the Minister referred, is this not proof of the undesirability of creating the colossal monopolies that Members on the other side are so fond of condemning?

Travel Facilities, North Devon

21.

asked the Minister of Transport why it has been found necessary to discontinue the priority queueing for workers in the area served by the Southern National Omnibus Company; and whether he is aware that this will be the cause of considerable inconvenience to workers in North Devon.

Priority queueing for workers was introduced in the country generally to meet the special conditions obtaining during the war. It was commonly authorised by the war-time permits which were substituted for road service licences. Since the end of the war there has been a general return to the principle of equal facilities for all travellers; also most of the war-time permits have now been replaced by the normal road service licences which cannot be used to authorise priority schemes. The Southern National Omnibus Company, who are withdrawing their priority scheme today, are alive to the need for clearing queues without undue delay and adjusting bus schedules as may be necessary, in order that there may be the minimum of inconvenience to the travelling public generally.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there would be no inconvenience if there were enough buses?

That is a matter for the licensing authorities. If the hon. and gallant Member cares to put that point to me, that can be looked into separately. That is a different point from the priority principle.

Parking, Inner London

22.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has considered the report of the Sub-Committee on Parking in Inner London sent up by the London and Home Counties Transport Advisory Committee; what are its main recommendations; and what action he proposes to take.

The Sub-Committee have not yet reported. They are still taking evidence but I hope to receive their report by about the end of the year.

Municipal Car Parks

23.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will seek power to make grants towards the cost of municipal car parks in view of the increasing number of vehicles on the road.

I realise the importance of municipal car parks as helping towards the solution of the problem of traffic con- gestion, but I cannot commit myself to seeking the power suggested by the hon. Member.

Highways, Western Europe (Committee)

25.

asked the Minister of Transport why no British Government representative is serving on the ad hoc working party appointed by the Sub-Committee on Road Transport of the Inland Transport Committee, and set up by the Economic Commission for Europe, for the purpose of implementing the highway construction programme for Western Europe approved by the Commission; and whether, in view of the importance of the international development of roads, steps will be taken to provide for the representation of this country.

It is the policy of His Majesty's Government to play a full part in the work of the Inland Transport Committee of the Economic Commission for Europe at Geneva. My hon. Friend will appreciate, however, that international road traffic between this country and the Continent is on a small scale compared with that between the countries of continental Europe. The agenda of the meeting of the particular ad hoc working party to which my hon. Friend refers did not appear to me to justify the attendance of a representative from my Department.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that the future importance of the highways of Western Europe justifies his Department in showing a rather more lively interest in the matter?

We do take a lively interest, but when I considered the two main items of the agenda I did not think it worth either the time or expense of sending a representative.

Winchester-Southampton Road

26.

asked the Minister of Transport how long work has been in progress upon the recent alteration to the Winchester to Southampton road at the Compton road junction; and what has been the cost of the said work.

This work has been in progress for one year and ten months and has cost about £17,300. It should be completed in November and the final cost will be about £18,800.

Ministry Of Supply

Atomic Energy Documents (Theft)

27.

asked the Minister of Supply whether he has any statement to make as to the loss of documents relating to atomic energy by an officer of his Department at Euston Station on 8th August.

30.

asked the Minister of Supply what action he has taken with regard to the loss on 8th August of secret papers by an official of his Department; why such papers were left unattended in a railway train; and why several hours elapsed between the loss at Euston Station and the first information to Scotland Yard.

A suitcase belonging to an official of my Department and containing, besides personal effects, a few documents on atomic energy was stolen from a railway carriage at Euston Station on 8th August. The official at once reported the loss to the station staff and to the railway police. The suitcase was recovered within two days; the documents, none of which contained any information of value to a potential enemy, were undisturbed. The railway police carried out their investigations promptly and efficiently and the matter was reported to Scotland Yard as soon as it was known that they had failed to recover the case.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has any information to show in whose hands these documents were during the two days concerned?

Yes. The suitcase was taken by the thief to a hotel bedroom. When he opened the case and saw some documents dealing with atomic energy apparently he took fright and disappeared, leaving the documents and the case behind.

As the official missed the suitcase at Euston, why did he not report the loss of the secret papers until he arrived at Warrington?

He reported it immediately to the police at Euston and it was hoped that the case would be found in the train. When it was not found the loss was reported when the train arrived at Warrington. The station police were informed immediately, however, but they did not think it necessary at that moment, particularly in view of the fact that the documents were not of a really secret nature, to inform Scotland Yard.

Is it not a fact that no report was made by the official of the loss of the secret papers to the police at Euston and that nothing was said to the police about the loss of the secret papers until he reached Warrington?

The station police were informed but they were told that the papers were not of a very secret nature.

Could the Minister say whether any disciplinary action has been taken against this official?

Royal Ordnance Factories (Civilian Work)

28.

asked the Minister of Supply how far the Royal ordnance factories are still manufacturing articles for sale for civilian use.

Civil work at the Royal ordnance factories is now at an annual rate of about £2 million.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether steps have been taken to reduce it?

It has gradually been reduced during the last two years, but we still desire to do a certain amount of civil work to keep going and active certain Royal ordnance factories for which we have no orders at the moment.

Should there be any slackness at Royal ordnance factories in view of the necessity of rearmament?

There are certain Royal ordnance factories which have not sufficient armament orders at the moment to keep them going fully. It may be that orders will come later.

Factories (Russian Representatives' Visits)

29.

asked the Minister of Supply to which factories Russian agents have had access during 1950.

32.

asked the Minister of Supply how many factories, where Government contracts of a secret nature are being carried out, are authorised to admit technical representatives of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Several thousand industrial firms hold contracts for defence work for my Ministry. Of these, a very large proportion undertake, in addition, work with which my Department has no concern. I cannot say which of them have been visited by Russian representatives in connection with this side of their work. I can, however, say that no visits involving access to information of defence significance have been made by Russian purchasing agents or technical representatives to any of our contractors.

How can the Minister give that assurance when he knows very well the names of the firms which have been involved?

I have just said that I know of no case, and I am perfectly certain that no Russian representative or agent has been to any firm which is carrying out for us any work of a secret nature.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that in the present circumstances his Department should keep a very careful check on the movements, visits and activities of Russian members of their alleged trade delegations?

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that the arrangements for defending the secrecy of any secret contract which we give to industrial firms are very tight indeed.

Would it not be better to restrict these activities until reciprocal facilities are granted by Russia?

The arrangements for inspection have been made with the Russian purchasers by private firms and have nothing to do with us.

Is it not a fact that certain of the firms engaged on contract work for the Soviet Union, and whose plants are open to inspection by Russian agents, have made representations to the Ministry of Supply about the security angle; that these representations were made long before the disclosures by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition; and that they have been ignored?

If the hon. Member is referring to the allegations made on behalf of Craven Brothers, I would point out that that company has no secret contracts from us at all.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there is anything in the slightest degree unusual or in the slightest degree sinister in a contractual arrangement which enables the purchaser of a complicated machine to inspect it before he takes delivery?

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that certain secret equipment which is being made for his Department is of such a character that it is impossible to keep it secret from the works, which are accessible to members of the Russian delegation?

If the hon. and gallant Member has some specific case in mind I will willingly look into it. I do not know what it is.

Defence Work (Factory Staffs)

31.

asked the Minister of Supply whether security precautions taken in atomic and other factories of defence importance include a check on the background of all employees; and how this check is made in the case of men who lived previously in Ireland.

Investigations are made into the reliability of all staff employed on secret work for my Department, including atomic energy research. It would be against the public interest for me to go into more detail.

Without imputing the loyalty of these Irishmen, may I ask whether the Minister is quite satisfied that he is able to obtain enough information about the background of the employees coming from Ireland, who have been in this country for only a very short time previously?

We are very careful in looking into the past record and the reliability of people going into secret defence work and unless we are quite sure about it, we do not employ them.

Copper (Price)

33.

asked the Minister of Supply for what reason his Department increased the price of copper by £16 per ton on Tuesday, 22nd August, and reduced it by the same amount on Thursday, 24th August; and if he is aware that these sudden changes created great industrial dislocation.

The United States export price, on which our buying prices are based, went up by 2 cents on 21st August. In accordance with the policy of keeping United Kingdom selling prices in line with those in the American market the Ministry of Supply selling price was increased from 22nd August by the sterling equivalent of £16 a ton. The American price went down again on 23rd August, and the Ministry of Supply price was reduced accordingly the following morning. If the Exchequer is to be adequately protected, it is not possible to give prior notice of changes of this kind.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that enormous inconvenience was caused to many firms who had to print notices indicating the effect on the prices of their commodities, as the change back to the original price was made in many cases before they could post them?

I appreciate that these rapid fluctuations in price are very inconvenient, but industry has said that they are fully satisfied with the policy of keeping our price in conformity with American price. If that changes rapidly we have to change ours.

34.

asked the Minister of Supply what proposals he has to compensate exporters of heavy electrical equipment, who need to cover their requirements many months ahead, for having to pay the premium on their forward purchases of copper, which he has imposed in order to prevent speculation.

The premium was imposed to protect the Exchequer from the results of heavy forward buying at a time of great uncertainty about future buying prices. The matter is under discussion with industry to see whether an alternative method can be found which would be more acceptable to the trade while providing the necessary protection to the Exchequer.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this fine on forward purchases of metal is no deterrent whatever to the speculator but is a serious burden on productive industry, on which the export trade depends?

It is inevitable, if it is likely, or almost certain, that the price is going to rise rapidly the next day, that the purchaser should pay a premium to cover the Exchequer against a very substantial loss which would otherwise be imposed upon it by substantial buying on that day.

It would have been exceedingly awkward for the trade because if, after consultation, someone, perhaps perfectly properly and innocently, bought large quantities, it might be suggested that it was as a result of the prior information given by us.

Does not the discount in other world markets in metal impose an extra burden on the manufacturer here if he has to pay a premium?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this facility of buying considerably ahead is confined to purchasers in this country. American consumers have not that facility at all.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that he is considering imposing this forward buying premium only from day to day and not, as it is at the moment, permanently?

I am considering the whole problem, which is a very real one, with the industry to see whether we can find a solution which is satisfactory to all of us.

Sheet Steel (Allocation)

35.

asked the Minister of Supply on what ground the quota of sheet steel to Briggs Motor Bodies has recently been reduced, with consequent laying-off of workers.

My Department makes only a small allocation of sheet steel to this company for the maintenance of plant. This allocation has not been reduced.

Is there anything further it is possible for my right hon. Friend to do, because this is a very serious problem in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who asked the Question, and in my area?

I am informed that out of a total labour force of about 9,000 people, 100 have been stood off, and the company does not expect to stand off any more; but, anyhow, the standing off has nothing to do with any action or inaction of my Department.

Building Work (Business Premises)

36.

asked the Minister of Works if he is aware that, despite the unsatisfactory position of housing in Birmingham, building work on factories, shops, large city stores and projects other than housing is increasing, thereby using up much labour and materials and exercising an adverse effect on house building; and if he will make immediate inquiries into this state of affairs.

During the last four months for which we have figures the number of men engaged on new housing work in Birmingham increased by 21 per cent. compared with 9 per cent. increase in the number engaged on other new projects. Most of the new factory building in the Birmingham area is concerned with products for defence or for the export drive, and the two large stores form part of the approved scheme for the rebuilding of blitzed cities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the list of applicants awaiting houses there are something over 50,000 people, and that there is great resentment that building proceeds on large stores, such as those of Marshall and Snelgrove, second-hand car dealers, C. & A. Modes, etc., which could be left undone yet, and the materials and men used to build houses for the people?

The fact is that the building force on new housing in Birmingham has gone up from 2,500 to over 3,000 in the last four months. It is a great mistake to assume that because people are engaged on other forms of construction they would be suitable for the building of new houses.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this notable increase in the building force available for the building of houses in Birmingham is the result of the Unionist Party's coming to power on the City Council?

I could answer that. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to make a tour of Birmingham in the very near future to see the type of work being done and whether it does delay house building?

But for the sudden and unexpected recall of Parliament I should have been there already. I am hoping to arrange a visit at a very early date.

Would the right hon. Gentleman give the same good advice to his colleague, the Minister of Health?

37.

asked the Minister of Works whether, in view of the need to concentrate building labour and materials in house-building and essential works, he will consider the cancellation of licences already granted for shops and office premises.

No, Sir. Licences are granted very sparingly for new work to shops and office premises, and only where outstanding evidence of need can be shown.

Does my right hon. Friend mean that no matter what change takes place in the economic situation he will consider no withdrawal of the 230-odd licences he has granted for shop and office premises in Brixton? Is he aware that, in fact, in Brixton nobody wants this fantastic folly at the present time?

That is a different question. I certainly did not mean to imply that I am immutable or unchangeable, or whatever the word is. However, having granted the licences it would seem to me crass stupidity to cancel them without adequate reason for doing so.

Coal Industry

Opencast Mining

38.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power, having regard to the importance of adequate supplies of coal to our defence commitments, on what grounds opencast coal mining is to be wound up by 1953.

The policy of His Majesty's Government for the opencast production of coal during the years 1950 to 1953 was explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Economic Affairs in a public statement issued on 19th January last, of which I am sending the hon. Lady a copy. The statement was made after careful consideration, and it would be premature to anticipate any changes that may or may not be required.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I attended the Debate and heard what was said and that, therefore, there is no need to send me a copy? Was the statement made with the full concurrence of the Cabinet, and are we to assume, therefore, that there will be a vast increase in the output of deep-mined coal?

The statement was not made in Debate but while Parliament was in Recess, in January last. Therefore, I think the hon. Lady would do well to study it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when we had the Debate on this question of opencast coal mining eight weeks ago, in the House, the Opposition were advocating the almost complete winding-up of opencast coal mining by 1951, and that among those who took part in the Debate was the hon. Lady?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there was a Debate on opencast coal mining shortly before the House rose, in which I took part, and that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power gave the date 1953? Is he aware that I am anxious to know whether that date will be kept?

I think the hon. Lady would do well to study the statements made, not only in January last but also by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, because in her Question she has misquoted it.

Stocks

39.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a full statement on the present position of coal stocks; and what steps are being taken to remedy the serious situation already disclosed.

The building up of coal stocks for the winter is proceeding steadily, and the rate is likely to increase, now that the miners' holidays are at an end. It is the Government's firm intention that total stocks shall reach the planned level of 16.5 million tons before the winter starts, and all necessary steps to this end are being taken.

What was the purpose of the very alarming speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power at Sedgefield recently, in which he said we were losing ground with regard to stocking?

I am glad to say that things are a little better now, but it is always well to be aware of it if one has a big task to fulfil.

That is a matter of opinion. The technical date is 31st October. I am not sure we shall reach 16.5 million tons by then, but I am sure we shall reach it very shortly afterwards.

How much are stocks this year below those we held this time last year?

The build-up, of course, is different this year because the miners' holidays have been staggered over a different period. Stocks are about a million tons less than they were last year, but only 300,000 tons below the planned target figure.

Domestic Supplies, Peterborough

40.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will review the allocation of house coal to Peterborough district for the winter period, 1950–51, which as it now stands is 49 tons per week less than the corresponding period, 1949–50, whilst the number of consumer registrations have in the meantime increased by 689.

I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. The final allocation made to the district of Peterborough for the winter of 1949–50 was 1,262 tons per week; the allocation for the coming winter is 1,279 tons, that is, 17 tons more per week, not 49 tons less.

Is the Minister aware that the distributors in the area have figures which are completely different in their conclusion from those which have been given by the Minister? Is he further aware that the permitted quantity shows far too great disparity from the actual allocation, since the general public expect the 30 cwt. as announced, and are not getting that allocation at the moment?

I have always made it clear to the House that we have not got as much coal for domestic use as we desire, but I hope Peterborough will be getting a little more this year than last year. Among other things, domestic consumers in the country have stocked up 750,000 tons more this summer than they did last year.

Exports

42.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power on what general principles he takes decisions on the amount of coal allowed to be exported.

In view of the international balance of payments position of the country, and the importance of coal in the negotiation of trade agreements with foreign countries, the Government seek to provide as much coal for export as they rightly can. The amount actually provided in any period must depend, in part, on the total supplies available and, in part, on the level of the home demand for essential purposes.

May I ask the Minister whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power was re- flecting the view of the Cabinet when he stated that the export of coal abroad might have to stop, owing to the lack of stocks in this country?

It is, of course, true that the internal demand for coal, thanks to full employment and increased productivity, is increasing very rapidly.

Which authority, the Cabinet or the National Coal Board, decides what allocations are made?

The Government decide how much coal should be exported, and we want to export as much as we rightly can.

Petrol Supplies

Consumption Level

41.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what percentage increase there has been in petrol consumption since de-rationing; and whether he anticipates any difficulty in supplies being maintained at the required level.

During the 14 weeks which have elapsed since petrol was de-rationed, the oil companies have delivered 19 per cent. more into consumption than they did in the 14 weeks before. Part of this increase is due to seasonal and other causes not connected with de-rationing. I am glad to assure the hon. Member that the present rate of supplies is sufficient to meet the demand.

Farmers (Storage)

44.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will reconsider the question of petrol storage for farmers who have fewer than five vehicles, to enable them to save the time now wasted in collecting it in small quantities.

The distribution of petrol for farmers, as for other customers, is done by commercial companies, who decide for themselves what methods they will use.

Is the Minister agreeable to allowing this distribution to all farmers who have sufficient storage, and not only to those who have more than five vehicles?

I understand that, under the arrangements in force before, eight companies had delivered to all farmers who have bulk storage capacity, but I could not give instructions to the companies to deliver direct to individual consumers.

Would the right hon. Gentleman make it quite clear that there is no official limitation on the right of private storage?

There is no official control at all. I do not know whether the Opposition now suggest that there should be some official control, but there is none, and I should be very reluctant to impose it.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he will have no objection to stocking up by farmers who have bulk storage capacity, if the companies will let them have the petrol?

I have no objection, but I can well conceive that deliveries to individual consumers might mean a wasteful use of transport. If farmers have a grievance, they can take it to the Oil Consumers' Council, on which the National Farmers' Union is represented.

Power Station, Peterborough

43.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power why his Department has used material and labour suitable for house building in erecting a wall of rustic brick, measuring nine inches by eight feet and 700 yards in length at River Lane, Coal Yard, Peterborough; why it was necessary to use expensive facing-bricks; and why an expanded metal fence at much less cost was not used.

The British Electricity Authority tell me that the extension of their power station at Peterborough has required the construction of two new sections of wall. One section of 300 yards was needed as a retaining wall for an embankment; it is made of concrete and faced with brick. The other, 420 yards in length, is made of brick; it is needed to enclose the coal store, and to prevent tive for either of the purposes in view, the coal dust from blowing about the town. I am advised that walls of expanded metal would not have been effec-

Is the Minister aware that, as regards the original wall acting as a retainer a concrete base had already been erected, which was quite sufficient for this purpose, and that the facing bricks used in addition were quite unnecessary from that point of view? In view of the shortage of houses in Peterborough, and the shortage of bricklayers and of rustic bricks, the provision of this unnecessary brickwork seems to be a public scandal.

The construction of these walls and the choice of the bricks were decided upon in consultation with the Peterborough Corporation, and the plan adopted, conforms with the Corporation's scheme for improving the amenities of their river front.

United Nations Day (Observance)

45.

asked the Prime Minister what steps His Majesty's Government is taking to ensure that, in view of the importance of the United Nations for the whole effort to preserve world peace and resist aggression, there is this year a nation-wide observance of United Nations Day.

His Majesty's Government recognise the importance of ensuring a nation wide observance of United Nations Day on 24th October. They are co-operating fully with the United Nations Information Centre in London and the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in plans to this end. One hundred thousand United Nations posters are. for example, being produced and distributed throughout the country. A circular is being sent out by the Ministry of Education calling the attention of all schools to the significance of the occasion.

Would the Prime Minister invite the co-operation of the B.B.C. on this occasion in order to give nation-wide publicity to United Nations Day, in view of the successful resistance of the United Nations in Korea?

Yes, Sir; plans are under consideration for working with the B.B.C. in this matter.

Would the Prime Minister accept from me an assurance that we should endorse an arrangement of this kind on this occasion?

Would the Prime Minister give the number of members of the United Nations who are not, as yet, fighting in Korea?