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Commons Chamber

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 November 1950

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House Of Commons

Monday, 6th November, 1950

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Atomic Energy

Private Firms

1.

asked the Minister of Supply what steps he is taking to enable private firms to increase their participation in the development of atomic energy.

Although the time is not yet ripe for large-scale participation by industry in the development of atomic energy, industrial firms are helping in preliminary studies of the feasibility and design of power reactors. Every encouragement and assistance is being given to the development of industrial applications of radio-active isotopes.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, without involving any security considerations, continue to ensure that private industry has a full chance of collaborating in this work?

Yes, Sir; as I indicated we are closely in touch with industry in this matter.

On a point of order. May we have some candles brought in, Mr. Speaker?

We have to get over our teething troubles in this new Chamber. I will do my best.

Research Staff (Aliens)

3.

asked the Minister of Supply how many of the staff at Harwell are naturalised citizens of alien birth.

7.

asked the Minister of Supply how many naturalised British subjects are now employed at Harwell on atomic research; and what was their former nationality.

Thirteen naturalised British subjects are employed at Harwell. Six were formerly German, three Austrian, one Swiss, one Polish, one French and one American.

Is the Minister satisfied that such of these gentlemen as may have obtained employment in wartime as refugees from Nazi oppression have been re-screened in the light of their possible affiliation with Communism?

Does the Minister agree that the majority of these people who have acquired British nationality, are loyal to the Crown, and that it is only the odd one who lets the country down?

Yes, Sir. I think it would be very regrettable if, because of recent incidents, any slur were to be cast on the excellent work and admirable character of those who are continuing their work at Harwell?

As an appeasement to the superstitious, will the Minister make the number 12 or 14 at the earliest possible opportunity?

Will the Minister, through his information officers, make known the enormous contribution made by these ex-foreign scientists?

Is the Minister aware that on security grounds we permit only British-born subjects to hold commissions in the Armed Forces? Surely it is much more important that these highly secret posts should be filled by British-born subjects.

The general rule is that only British-born subjects are employed in work of this sort. Any exception has to be referred to me, and I have to give my special consideration to it.

In view of the large sums spent by both sides on these so-called security operations and secret service, will the Minister consider whether it would not be cheaper to exchange information between countries?

Dr Pontecorvo

4.

asked the Minister of Supply when Professor Bruno Pontecorvo entered the employ of his Department; what was the nature of his work; and if he has any further information as to where this gentleman now is.

6.

asked the Minister of Supply how many days elapsed between the date on which Professor Pontecorvo was due back from leave and the date on which his Department notified the security departments, on a high level, of his disappearance.

Dr. Pontecorvo entered Government service in January, 1943, and joined my Department in January, 1946. He took up duty at Harwell in January, 1949, where he was employed in the Nuclear Physics Division. Dr. Pontecorvo's leave expired on 31st August. On this date he had written a note to Harwell, received on 4th September, saying that he had trouble with his car but hoped to be back in time for a conference to be held between 7th and 13th September. A message was sent to him from Harwell asking him to visit and advise a team of scientists employed in Switzerland on cosmic ray work on which he had specialised. It was his failure to pay this visit or to communicate further with Harwell after the date of the conference which first gave cause for concern. Inquiries as to his whereabouts were started on 21st September. I have no conclusive evidence of his present whereabouts, but I have no doubt that he is in Russia.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, at the time this gentleman's employment at Harwell began, it was known to his Department that he was closely connected with a well-known Italian Communist; and can he also say if he has any information as to whether, on his recent trip abroad, Professor Pontecorvo took with him any documents of a secret nature?

No, Sir, it was not known at the time Professor Pontecorvo was first employed at Harwell that he had a relative abroad who was connected with the Communist Party. As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, so far as is known he took no documents abroad with him.

May I ask the Minister, although I see the difficulty in this case, whether it would be possible to extend to Harwell the system used in the Services, namely, that if anybody is absent and over-stays his leave, machinery is set in motion immediately to find out where he is?

Yes, Sir, but the reasons for this man overstaying his leave seemed quite normal. He had a motor car breakdown, and was asked to visit some people in Switzerland, and it was, naturally, only about a week afterwards that those at Harwell became worried about him.

In answer to a previous Question I understood the Minister to say that foreigners were carefully screened before they got these jobs. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we ought to have found out that Professor Pontecorvo had a Communist connection in Italy?

One finds out a great deal by screening, but it so happens that the fact that he had a Communist relative abroad was not in the possession of the security officers.

Can the Minister say whether the three defections which have taken place in the last four years—Dr. Nunn May in 1946, Professor Fuchs in 1949 and now Professor Pontecorvo in 1950—arise from the fact that these three gentlemen were working in conjunction with one another in the Harwell atomic establishment?

It is true that Dr. Fuchs and Professor Pontecorvo were working in the same major establishment, the one research establishment in this country. But they were not particular friends, and I do not think that the fact that they were working in a centre where research takes place is really a significant fact.

Would not almost the first series of questions asked in any process of screening be about Communist connections, either relations or friends, of the person who is being screened?

I do not think so, particularly in this case. The man had not been abroad for a long time. He had left Europe in 1940. The fact that he had relatives abroad who were members of the Communist Party was not suggested to the security officers, and they were not aware of that fact.

If these people are not asked about their friends and relations, what are they asked about?

It must be remembered that the major screening of this man took place in 1943, when he joined the atomic energy organisation in Canada and the security services made the necessary inquiries. Similar inquiries were made at a later date and, as I have informed the House, this fact was not known when the man joined the Harwell organisation at the beginning of 1949. It was known later, but by that time he had made arrangements to leave Harwell anyhow and go to Liverpool.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a "star turn" at the recent Conservative Party Conference was a former Communist? What screening would be appropriate in that case?

We cannot debate this matter further. We have had at least five minutes on it already.

Security Measures, Harwell

9.

asked the Minister of Supply if he is satisfied with present security measures at Harwell.

Is not it a fact that a list in a telephone directory, giving the names and places of work of the people working at Harwell, is available to anyone? Would not the Minister agree that the first step to breaking down security is to know the names of those people and, in particular, to discover whether they have relatives living behind the Iron Curtain upon whom pressure can be brought to bear?

I do not think there is any danger in someone discovering the names of people working at Harwell by looking at a list in one of the telephone booths at Harwell.

Would the right hon. Gentleman consult with other Ministers to see if they are satisfied with the security measures at Broadcasting House?

May I ask the Minister whether any steps are taken to keep a check on people abroad with whom these people may correspond?

Certain checks are kept. Reasonable checks are kept on the people working at Harwell and other secret research stations. But it would be quite impossible, in view of the thousands of people who work there and elsewhere, to keep a check on people in other countries with whom they may communicate.

Ministry Of Supply

Lead Deposits, Lanarkshire

2.

asked the Minister of Supply whether he will conduct a survey in the Leadhills area of Lanarkshire to establish whether there are sufficient deposits of lead to justify a renewal of mining.

I am looking into this matter and will write to the noble Lord as soon as possible.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is nearly five years since I first raised the question of these lead deposits, which extend into Dumfriesshire? As the price of lead is very much more attractive than it was at that time, is it not time that the Minister did a little more than look into the matter?

The major responsibility for producing lead in this country rests with private companies, who are opening a number of lead mines in various areas.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that with development rights restricted as they are there is very little incentive to private companies to undertake development?

Airways Staff (Motor Cars)

8.

asked the Minister of Supply how many motor cars were supplied to British European Airways by way of special priority in December, 1949; and what was the reason for this special treatment.

Special arrangements were made for the supply of 100 cars to British European Airways. Ninety have so far been delivered. The purpose was to avoid the danger of fatigue in aircrews who have been unable to find accommodation near the airport and have to travel long distances to their place of duty. This arrangement also effects a considerable saving in the Corporation's road transport costs.

Why was this very special and particular privilege to acquire motor cars, which is denied to other people, extended to this nationalised corporation? Is not Northolt surrounded by bus stations and public transport and are not there vast areas in the country which are far worse served than that?

I think I gave the reason in my reply. The special reason is that there are a number of pilots, navigators and others who cannot live close to Northolt. They have to be there at odd times, both day and night, and is essential that they should have proper transport.

Will the Minister extend similar privileges to private charter companies on request?

It is not proposed to extend this privilege to anybody or to supply any further cars.

This is an ordinary Question and it has been pointed out that to an ordinary Question two supplementary questions are quite enough. I saw at least half a dozen hon. Members rise. We shall never get through half the Questions on the Order Paper if we have so many supplementaries.

In view of the wholly unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice the I propose to raise this matter again on the Adjournment.

Motor Cars (Home Market)

10.

asked the Minister of Supply if he will make a statement as to the arrangements for the supply of motor cars to the home market for 1951, and as to the factors which will determine priorities among those who wish to have new cars.

11.

asked the Minister of Supply what arrangements are being made to ensure fair distribution of new cars during the period of reduced supplies for the home market.

The number of cars to be supplied to the home market in 1951 is at present under consideration. In distributing cars in the home market the industry has been asked to give priority to the urgent requirements of doctors and midwives and there is no intention to add to these priority classes. I have, however, asked the industry to consider measures to improve distribution and I await their proposals.

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the special position of commercial travellers and other business people who very urgently need a car and who may have a very old one?

There are so many people to whom one can say that special conditions attach, that if we extend this list it would become so wide as to be quite meaningless.

Can my right hon. Friend do anything to stop the practice of some distributors of offering a new car, plus a cash premium, in return for a used car just out of covenant?

I think that is a matter for the motor car industry, which is very active in trying to stop abuses.

Is the Minister considering with the industry the question of a possible three-year contract?

Steel Allocations

12.

asked the Minister of Supply what steps are being taken to ensure fair allocations to industrial users of rolled steel production.

asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware that since August, 1950, stock-holding merchants of steel have been short of supply owing to an extension of delivery to 15 to 18 months from the mills; and what is the reason for this shortage.

All steel, other than sheets and tinplate, was freed from distribution control last May and no allocation to industrial users is now made. Extensive additional buying, following the outbreak of war in Korea and the announcement of the Government's rearmament programme, is causing delay in obtaining supplies.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are a number of firms who are hoarding steel in anticipation of Government orders that may never come their way, and will he put into effect a system of allocation to avoid this abuse, which is already having serious economic consequences on firms who are not misbehaving in this way?

I do not think that we are justified at the moment in reimposing our steel allocation scheme.

Is not it a fact that certain orders of steel are earmarked for the right hon. Gentleman's Department, and that the firms concerned have not been given conversion orders, with the result that there is steel lying idle at the moment? Can the Minister give an undertaking that there will be no such delays in future?

I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me the information on which he bases that question.

Will my right hon. Friend look into the position of small firms who cannot get their orders direct from the works and who have to go through merchants?

18.

asked the Minister of Supply why the steel allocation for Briggs Bodies, Dagenham, is to be cut in January by 25 per cent.

Briggs Motor Bodies do not receive an allocation of steel for production from my Department but obtain supplies from their customers. Allocations have not yet been made for the first quarter of 1951, but owing to the difficulty in importing sheet steel there may have to be some reduction in the allocation to the industry.

In view of the importance of car exports, can an arrangement be made to see that adequate supplies of steel are available for key industries?

We get all the sheet steel we can. We have been importing considerable quantities from the United States. We hope to be able to continue to do that, but it appears that there is very little available there and we may have to forgo some of our normal United States imports.

Government Orders (Small Firms)

13.

asked the Minister of Supply what steps are being taken to utilise for Government requirements the productive capacity of smaller firms engaged in tooling work and light engineering.

Government requirements do not at present provide work for all the small firms willing to help but many such firms are engaged directly or indirectly on Government orders. We have a list of suitable capacity firms if and when needed.

Can my right hon. Friend say how these smaller firms can make known to his Department what contribution they can make to national requirements? Is the matter left to pure chance or to the trade associations concerned, which may consist of the larger firms only?

Firms are not backward in letting us know if they have spare capacity. We had applications from about 5,000 firms in three or four months. The normal process is preferably for firms to inform our regional controller if they have spare capacity, and he will make a note of it.

Zinc

15.

asked the Minister of Supply to what extent he has recently had to pay more for zinc on the Continent than the price at which he sells it to consumers in this country.

It would be contrary to established practice to disclose contract prices.

Is not it a fact that the Ministry have been forced to buy on the Continent at a figure higher than the selling price in this country?

If I gave an answer to that question I should be disclosing the type of price we pay, and that would be contrary to established practice.

17.

asked the Minister of Supply if the allocation of zinc to Royal Ordnance factories is restricted to 90 per cent. of their 1949 intake in the same way as the allocation of zinc to the rest of industry is restricted.

The demands of the Royal Ordnance factories for zinc for defence work will be met in full. For civilian work they will be treated in the same way as commercial manufacturers.

Do we understand from that answer that private manufacturers requiring zinc for defence work will also be met in this way?

Copper

16.

asked the Minister of Supply if is he is aware of the sudden demand for copper from unusual export markets; and what steps he is taking to keep the metal in the country for the use of our finishing industries.

The answer to the first part of the Question is "Yes." The export of copper and copper scrap, except under licence, is prohibited. Licences are granted exceptionally for the export of very small quantities of unwrought copper. Exports, under licence, of copper alloys in ingot form are restricted, by arrangement with the trade, to a quota based on exports in 1949. Since 11th September, 1950, exports of semi-manufactures of copper, except under licence, have also been prohibited. Licences are granted for export to traditional markets, notably the Commonwealth countries. But the extent of these exports is now being reviewed.

Surplus Goods (Auctions)

19.

asked the Minister of Supply what steps are taken by his Department to make certain that items offered at Ministry of Supply public auctions are not those needed by the purchasing branch of his Department.

New goods are not ordered unless it has been established that no suitable surpluses are available.

How can the right hon. Gentleman explain a case, which I have checked again today, of a buyer who resold to the Ministry of Supply, at a big profit, something which he bought a short time ago at a public auction?

Ministry Of Works

Government Offices, London

20.

asked the Minister of Works how many steel-framed office blocks are under construction in London at the present time; and how many of these are intended for use as Government offices, either temporarily or permanently.

Thirty-five steel-framed office buildings are at present under construction in London, of which three are Crown buildings and 15 will be leased for use as Government offices.

In view of the fact that successful private business offices provide the money, through taxation, for the Government offices, is not it time that they had a bigger share of the new buildings?

Has the right hon. Gentleman calculated how many houses could have been built with the materials which are being used for these offices?

Here again, Sir, confusion arises. The whole of the building force is not interchangeable. It is a great mistake merely to add up building materials and then try to equate them to houses.

22.

asked the Minister of Works why, in view of the fact that there are 9,000 families on the waiting list of Paddington Borough Council for housing accommodation, application was made by his Department to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning for permission to erect a block of Government offices facing the mainline railway terminus; and whether he will arrange for flats for working-class families to be built on this site instead.

My Ministry considered last year a proposal to build offices in Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, in order to accommodate the Edgware Road Employment Exchange (which is at present in a Church hall and in huts on a site required for Church purposes) the Ministry of National Insurance (which was then in a requisitioned school and two requisitioned houses) and the National Assistance Board, which was also in requisitioned houses. It was possible to make temporary arrangements to avoid building for the time being. I have no power, however, to require the owners of the site in question to build flats on it. No licence has been granted for any building on this site.

Would not it be better for the Minister to consider the possibility of the erection of accommodation for the overcrowded people of Paddington in view of the drastic housing situation there, rather than to contemplate the building of all these offices?

I have already said that the building of the offices has been put off, and I have no power to insist that the owners should build anything other than what they wish on the site.

Village Halls (Army Huts)

21.

asked the Minister of Works whether he will now make it permissible for those villages without a village hall to purchase and re-erect an Army hut as a social centre for the neighbourhood or for ex-Service men in particular.

Applications for building licences in such cases may be granted provided the amount of building work involved is small, only negligible quantities of scarce materials—particularly softwood—are required, and that there will be no interference with more important work in the district.

Building Labour Force

23.

asked the Minister of Works how many building trade and civil engineering workers are now employed on work for the Armed Forces in Scotland and in England and Wales respectively.

The latest available figures are for the end of August. It is estimated that the number of building and civil engineering workers employed on work for the Service Departments was then 29,780 in England and Wales and 2,620 in Scotland.

In view of the enthusiasm for the building of houses, can the Minister do his best to transfer some of these workers to municipal housing?

In point of fact, of the numbers quoted, 6,120 in England and some 420 in Scotland are now engaged on building new permanent houses.

Hyde Park (Riding Tracks)

24.

asked the Minister of Works whether in the interests of public safety, he will provide some fencing or railings at the sides of the tracks used by riders in Hyde Park.

No, Sir. I consider that more fences or railings would detract from the amenities of the park, and that they are not in any event necessary.

Is the Minister aware that there have been a number of accidents recently both to horses and riders, these accidents being caused by small boys careering madly across the tracks on bicycles? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider reverting to some form of protection similar to that which existed before the war?

No, Sir. Not many serious accidents have been reported. In fact, I cannot recollect one since I hit a bus at Hyde Park corner many years ago.

Having seen some very peculiar antics by these riders, may I suggest that there appears to be a need for a supra-equestrian control?

25.

asked the Minister of Works whether he will take steps to prevent motorists from parking their motorcars on the riding tracks in Hyde Park, especially on the north side of the Serpentine.

Parking of cars on the horse rides is prohibited under the existing Hyde Park Regulations between the hours of 7 a.m. and noon on weekdays. Revised regulations have been prepared—and are at present lying on the Table—which will prohibit parking at any time, except in authorised parking places.

War Memorials, West Riding

28.

asked the Minister of Works how many war memorial schemes in the West Riding region, in addition to Ilkley, have been declined licences by his Department.

One other war memorial scheme has been refused a licence recently in this region.

Building Licence, Lancashire

30.

asked the Minister of Works what were the circumstances that actuated him to increase the extent of the licensed work by £5,000, to enable the unlawful work carried out by Lord Peel on his residence "The Hyning" to be taken advantage of.

31.

asked the Minister of Works if he will make a full statement on the circumstances under which officers acting for his Department visited a residence known as "The Hyning," Warton, near Carnforth, Lancashire, and subsequently submitted a report stating that building work was being done in and about such residence outside the limits of the existing licence; and if he will give details as to the reasons why, following the submission of such report, his Department approved the granting of a building licence of approximately £5,000 in order to complete building work held to be unlawful.

Licences were issued by the local authority in January, 1949, for the rehabilitation of this house, but, when officers of my Department visited the house in January this year, they found work in progress which was beyond that authorised. Although the house was virtually uninhabitable in its existing state, all work was stopped, so that, apart from the question of taking legal proceedings, immediate consideration could be given to the minimum amount of work needed to make the house habitable again, to remove danger and to avoid waste of materials.

The greater part of the value of the licences then given was accounted for by the price of antiques valued at over £3,000 which were to be fitted into the fabric and had already been bought. If their installation had not been allowed, ordinary building materials would have had to be used. It is my Department's normal practice in these cases to allow, without prejudice to possible proceedings, the minimum amount of work necessary to make the building usable, in order that building materials and labour already expended may not be wasted.

Is it the intention of my right hon. Friend to take any further steps, in view of this case, to prevent the excessive use of urgently needed building materials in other directions?

We do our best. We assume that, when licences are granted, people will play the game, and I really cannot afford to keep an army of snoopers watching what they are doing.

In view of the gravity of this case, does my right hon. Friend consider it proper policy that a prosecution should be gravely handicapped by the fact that his Department had granted a licence for the completion of what was already known to be illegal work? Will he study the comments of the learned judge in that connection?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for putting that question, since, in point of fact, the Director of Public Prosecutions was consulted before the further licence was issued and approved its issue.

Owing to the extraordinary confusion, which appears to be general, as to what kind of work calls for a licence, would the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of taking steps to enlighten the public on that matter?

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the attention of the court was drawn to the fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions had been consulted in the way he now informs the House, and, if so, whether that information was brought to the notice of the court before the allegation of condonation by the Minister had prejudiced the matter?

Westminster Hall

26.

asked the Minister of Works why the structural arrangements made in Westminster Hall for the opening of the new House of Commons were removed so soon after the ceremony.

Part of the material was hired and the contractor has removed it. It is my intention to keep Westminster Hall free of encroachments of any sort.

Does my right hon. Friend know—and if he does not, I am glad to tell him—that on all sides of the House the arrangements he made for that occasion were greatly appreciated? Therefore, is not it a pity that they were not seen by a wider public, particularly week-enders?

Without all the people who were there on the ceremonial occasion, I think the place would look very untidy and empty.

Football Club, Huddersfield (Stand)

27.

asked the Minister of Works if he has yet granted a licence for the repair of Huddersfield Town's grandstand; and how much money he has permitted to be spent upon this project.

Licences totalling £14,000 have now been issued for the reinstatement of Huddersfield Town's grandstand.

How is it that the Minister can agree to grant a licence like that but declines a licence for the Ilkley war memorial?

Probably the same material is not involved. Perhaps I should tell the House that, when the complete embargo on replacements for recreational purposes was lifted, it was thought right, in certain of the towns where football grounds had been completely blitzed, that a certain amount of money should be made available for this purpose. This was done with the utmost discretion, and Huddersfield Town happens to be one of the clubs which benefit.

In view of the Huddersfield Town club's absolutely appalling record, would it not have been better if they had spent this money on buying some decent players?

I must leave my hon. Friend to fight that out with certain of his hon. Friends below the Gangway.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that the Ilkley War Memorial is to take the form of shelters for old people. As that is a form of recreational facility, would he not reconsider the matter?

Now that my attention has been drawn to the question, I will certainly look into it.

Electricity Supplies

New Power Stations

34.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power which new power stations conceived and constructed since the British Electricity Authority came into being have been completed; and what is the output of these stations.

It takes four years to plan and construct a power station and to install the plant. Vesting day for the British Electricity Authority was April 1st, 1948. None of the new stations which they have planned is, therefore, yet in operation.

In that case, how can the Minister explain the British Electricity Authority's spending of very large amounts of the taxpayers' money on lavish and expensive poster and advertising campaigns under the heading of "Another New Power Station"?

I see nothing in what I have said which is inconsistent with that policy. I shall be very glad to discuss it with the hon. and gallant Member, and perhaps that would be the most useful and suitable way. The purpose of the Authority is to show people, in their advertisements, that something is being done to increase the capacity, and to urge on them the necessity of not using more electricity than they need in peak hours.

To prevent any misunderstanding, would the right hon. Gentleman ask the Authority to print upon any future posters the complete answer which he has given to the House this afternoon?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put a Question down about these posters.

Will the Minister tell the public that something is being done to provide the power, not the posters?

35.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power which power stations on which work had not been begun when the British Electricity Authority came into being are at present in course of construction; and what will be the output of these stations.

Since vesting day, the British Electricity Authority have begun constructional work on 16 new power stations, and on the extension of seven existing stations. With the hon. Member's permission, I will circulate a list of these 23 stations in the OFFICIAL REPORT; their total capacity will be 2,746 megawatts.

The Authority has also begun preliminary work on 12 other new stations, and on 35 other extensions, the total capacity of which will together amount to 4,346 megawatts. The output from these 47 stations will become available between 1953 and 1956.

Will every care be taken to see that there is as little pollution of the atmosphere as possible from these stations?

Yes, Sir. Great attention is being given to that problem, and I attach tremendous importance to it.

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how many of the stations which have not yet been completed are those described in the posters?

Following is the list:

NEW POWER STATIONS AND POWER STATION EXTENSIONS ON WHICH SITE WORK HAS BEEN COMMENCED SINCE VESTING DAY

New Stations:

Capacity MWso.

Acton Lane (Willesden)56
Bold (St. Helens)56
Carrington224
Chadderton112
Connah's Quay112
Doncaster112
Drakelow224
East Yelland84
Fleetwood84
Goldington112
Littlebrook "C" 225
Meaford "B" 168
Plymouth "B"90
Roosecote (Barrow)112
Tilbury280
Uskmouth336
16 New Stations2,387

Power Station Extensions:

Capacity MWso.

Clarence Dock98
Huddersfield55
Northampton56
Peterborough37
Portsmouth28
Warrington28
Woolwich57
Seven Extensions359

Generating Plant, Overhaul

38.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what proportion of the generating plant of the British Electricity Authority was out of operation on 31st October because of overhaul.

I am informed by the British Electricity Authority that the proportion of their generating plant which was out of operation on the 31st October because of overhaul was 12.2 per cent.

Will the Minister say why it was that, in an inspired paragraph in the evening newspapers last Friday, it was stated that the proportion was 20 per cent.? Is he also aware that, in a great many cases, the overhaul commenced late in July, instead of early in June?

The overhaul has to be phased throughout the year, and, in addition to the overhaul, there was some capacity out of use bceause of breakdowns. The hon. Gentleman, who has great knowledge of these things, which we all respect, knows that we have had to keep in continuous use a great deal of old plant which, before the war, would have been replaced.

Load Shedding

43.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will give an assurance that during the forthcoming winter every effort will be made to prevent the necessity for power cuts, or to reduce them to a minimum.

Yes, Sir. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that the British Electricity Authority and area boards will make every effort to reduce to the absolute minimum the amount of load shedding that may be required during the coming winter months. Their difficulties arise from the great and continuing increase in the demand for power the B.E.A. are now supplying 27 per cent. more electricity than they were on vesting day—less than three years ago—and the demand during the peak hours is greater than ever before.

To mitigate the loss and inconvenience caused arrangements have been made, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has announced, for the load spreading proposed by the Electricity Sub-Committee of the National Joint Advisory Council. The lighting of shop windows and advertisements has been restricted over the peak hours. The general public, including housewives, have been urged not to use more current than they must during the peak hours, and, in particular, not to use electric fires except in cases of real need between the hours of 8 and 9.30 a.m.

I would like to express the Government's gratitude to the leaders of industry and to the trade unions for the willing co-operation which they have always given in previous years.

Does the Minister feel that his Department is really fully informed not only of the great inconvenience but also of loss caused to industry by these power cuts, and, further, of the danger to life which often ensues?

Load shedding is, of course, primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, although I have a good deal of information about it.

Is the Minister aware of the great inconvenience which recent power cuts have caused both to schools and hospitals in the Knutsford Division? Are these cuts to continue? If so, why can no previous warning be given.

If we have hard weather it is likely that there will be cuts. The arrangements now being made are designed to minimise the inconvenience and loss caused, and I think the public will co-operate in the future as they have done in the past.

Will the Minister amplify his reference to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour in this connection?

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is responsible for industry, he makes the arrangements for load shedding in industrial concerns.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the agricultural industry will be safeguarded from the kind of dislocation suffered in Hampshire on 30th October last.

Will the Minister say when responsibility for industry was transferred from the Board of Trade and other Departments to the Ministry of Labour?

I used a loose phrase. My right hon. Friend is responsible for the committee which has suggested these arrangements.

Coal Merchants (Logs, Price)

36.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will study the circumstances under which coal merchants were able to obtain logs from suppliers at 55s. per ton at the end of September, are now having to pay 75s. and expect a further increase to 100s. at the end of November; and what action he proposes to take to end or reduce the profiteering in this trade.

I have not been able to trace any case where merchants have been asked to pay more than 55s. per ton for firewood, but if my hon. Friend will give me the names of the merchants to whom he refers I will cause further inquiries to be made.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this question was put down on the day following a conference which I had with no fewer than 14 people actively engaged in the coal industry, and that 10 of them have had precisely the experience of being asked 75s. for log deliveries at the beginning of this month?

If I could be told who made the offer to these merchants, I will try to follow it up to see if something can be done.

Coal Industry

Opencast Sites, Higham

37.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much compensation has been paid to the contractors working the opencast coal sites at Higham, near Burnley.

I have received no information about the payment of any compensation to the contractors who are working the opencast site at Higham, near Burnley.

39.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if the working of the opencast coal sites at Higham, near Burnley, was let out to the contractors by tender; and if the lowest tender was accepted.

I understand that the hon. Member's question refers to the sites in the West Close zone. Tenders were invited for the production of coal from the original site, for the crushing of coal, if and when that was required and for the provision of a crushing and screening plant. My Department accepted the tender which gave them the lowest price for this work, taken as a whole. Another contractor offered a lower price for the production of the coal, but he was unable to provide the plant required. In accordance with my Department's normal practice, the original contract was extended by negotiation to cover adjacent sites.

I am unable to follow the Minister's remarks about the western districts, as this question specifically refers to Higham site near Burnley. Was that contract concerned with the whole of East and West Lancashire? To what exactly is the Minister referring?

I was referring to the same site as the hon. Member, but to the original site for which tenders were invited, were subsequently added other adjacent sites which had not been proved at the time of the original tender.

Italian Workers

40.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many Italians are now employed in our coal mines; and what steps are being taken to increase their number.

The statistics of manpower in the coal industry do not show the nationalities of the men employed; I have, therefore, no information about the number of Italians who work in the mines. The National Coal Board have made proposals to the National Union of Mineworkers for the recruitment of Italians; their consultations are still going on.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether all these men have been well screened?

Gasification Experiment, Chesterfield

42.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what progress has now been made with the experiments in the underground gasification of coal at Newman Spinney, near Chesterfield; and whether these experiments are to be continued on a larger scale.

The work at Newman Spinney on the underground gasification of coal has begun very well. A seam, unsuitable for mining, was ignited more than three months ago, and has continued ever since to produce gas; the total gasification of 200 tons of coal has been effected. The results of this experiment will be assessed at the end of the year, and the plans for future work will then be made.

Gas Council (Report)

41.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is taking to expedite the presentation of the Gas Council's Report for the year ended 30th April, 1950.

I have impressed upon the Gas Council how desirable it is that their report and accounts should be presented with the least possible delay. They have expressed their full agreement with this view, and I am satisfied that they will submit the report as soon as they can.

Does the Minister recollect that before nationalisation the larger gas companies were under statutory obligation to present their accounts within three months of the end of the year—and many did so in a shorter time? Now that the industry is nationalised we have already waited six months and look like waiting considerably longer. Does he consider that satisfactory?

The units on which reports have to be made are now much bigger, and, owing to the great decentralisation of powers which has been carried through in gas, the task of co-ordinating the reports, and above all the accounts, is rather complex. Many of the reports are now with the printers; I hope that the Stationery Office will be able to get them out early in the new year, but I cannot give a firm date.

Ministers (Official Residences)

46.

asked the Prime Minister what Ministers are now provided with official residences.

Rent-free official residences are provided for the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who is not at present occupying it), the Lord Chancellor (as Speaker of the House of Lords) and the First Lord of the Admiralty. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister of Transport have residential accommodation in official premises for which they pay rent.

Is there a certain measure of official accommodation provided for other Ministers, without having complete flats?

There are cases where there is lavatory and washing accommodation, and there are cases where a Minister has a bed in which, if he is kept late, he can sleep. Nothing else in the way of residence is provided.

Railways (Questions To Ministers)

47.

asked the Prime Minister to which Minister Questions concerning the defence value of any United Kingdom railway should be addressed.

It would be convenient if such Questions were addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, though in some cases other Ministers might appropriately reply.

Does this mean that the responsibilities of the Minister of Transport extend to Northern Ireland?

Is the right hon. Gentleman certain that the Minister of Transport is competent to answer Questions on this particular point, bearing in mind the rules of procedure and the practice which has grown up with regard to Questions put to the Minister of Transport about the nationalised railways?

Festival Of Britain

Catering

48.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he can now make a statement on the catering arrangements at the South Bank Exhibition.

There will be 13 catering establishments in the South Bank Exhibition, comprising restaurants, cafés, buffets and bars. Concessions have been let to five catering firms who are now planning their operations in close association with the Festival Office. A description of these arrangements was published in the Press on 20th October. The catering facilities which are being provided separately by the L.C.C. in the Royal Festival Hall will also be available to visitors to the South Bank Exhibition.

To ensure a fair distribution of the crockery available for the catering, would the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Dome of Discovery is not being reserved as a flying saucer by Lord Beaverbrook?

Advertising

49.

asked the Lord President of the Council what amount is being spent in hard currency and sterling, respectively, on advertising the Festival of Britain.

The estimates for Press advertising are £94,600 home and £131,400 overseas, and for poster advertising £12,500, all of which is at home.

In addition, £15,000 is being held in reserve for Press and poster advertising. Of the overseas Press advertising, £66,512 is in hard currencies.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that at the present rate of expenditure the Estimates approved by the House will not be exceeded?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at present Americans are coming here with no knowledge whatever of the facilities offered in connection with the Festival, and will he take steps to ensure that they do know what is provided for them?

Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the Opposition are pressing for more advertising or less?

Opening (Sunday)

51.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will take steps to ensure that the opening of the Festival of Britain does not take place on a Sunday.

As already announced, the opening of the Festival of Britain will be broadcast to the world from the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral by His Majesty The King after a service of dedication in St. Paul's Cathedral on Thursday, 3rd May, 1951.

Does the Lord President know that in England even would-be dictators have to bow sometimes to public opinion?

Can the Lord President say if it has been decided yet whether the Exhibition should be open on Sundays?

What advice has been tended by the Churches Advisory Council—I believe that is what it is called—on the question of the Festival being open on Sundays?

I admit that the Question on the Order Paper is perhaps a little vague but, as I understand it, that is not the question intended to be put.

Parliamentary Committee

Later

(by Private Notice) asked the Lord President of the Council whether any arrangements have yet been made to secure that our Parliamentary institutions play their rightful part in the forthcoming Festival of Britain celebrations.

Yes, Sir, I am glad to be able to announce that you, Sir, have appointed a Committee of Members of all parties and of both Houses to examine this matter and to make suitable arrangements. The following is the list of its members: The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), Chairman; Lord Douglas of Barloch, K.C.M.G.; Earl Fortescue, C.B., O.B E., M.C.; Lord Rea, O.B.E.; the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George); my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn); my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall); the hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay); my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang); the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler).

The whole House will be gratified to know that the noble Lord has accepted the chairmanship. The Committee will meet for the first time tomorrow.

On a point of order. For the assistance of Members on future occasions, could it be explained, Sir, in what way this particular Question qualified as a Private Notice Question?

The hon. Member asks me how this Question qualified as a Private Notice Question. It must be perfectly obvious. The hon. Member knows that announcements are made to the House and that one arranges for a Private Notice Question of this kind. It is done with my permission in order that the House may be informed. I do not like it if the hon. Member queries my authority to allow Private Notice Questions.

With very great respect, and without seeking in any way to question your authority, Sir—I do not think there was anything in my question which did query it—nevertheless, it will be appreciated that this is a matter of interest to the House. Many of us have been told from time to time that there must be some element of urgency in the matter to justify a Private Notice Question. Ministers always have the right to make a statement at the end of Questions, with your permission, and without any Question being asked. If the Rules are to he changed at all in connection with Private Notice Questions, then all hon. Members ought to have the benefit of them.

I cannot accept that argument in the least. After all, this is a matter which is of great interest to Members of Parliament of both Houses and in order to give it prominence surely the proper way is to put a Private Notice Question, so that all hon. Members can hear. That is quite a different matter from other Private Notice Questions.

I am quite sure that Mr. Speaker did his best. The list which I have read is the list which has been selected. Northern Ireland has a committee of its own in connection with the Festival organisation.

For the interest of hon. Members, would the Lord President mind telling us what the Committee is about, because those of us at this end of the Chamber have not yet heard?

My hon. Friend heard the Question put. The Committee is to see what arrangements have yet been made to secure that our Parliamentary institutions play their rightful part in the forthcoming Festival of Britain celebrations.

When will the Committee first report to the House; and is my right hon. Friend aware that all hon. Members will welcome the appointment of the Committee?

I have no doubt that, on behalf of the Committee, the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) will report to the House the conclusions which the Committee has reached as to the best form the celebrations can take.

Local Products

52.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will make arrangements for local products from outlying areas to be exhibited at the main centres of the Festival of Britain.

I am not sure what arrangements the hon. Member has in mind—I pause a little because presently I shall be asked to speak up—but so far as Scottish outlying areas are concerned I would draw his attention to the Exhibition of Scottish Architecture and Traditional Crafts to be held in the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh from July to September next year. I should welcome any help the hon. Member can give in securing increased support for this exhibition.

Will the Lord President look favourably on suggestions from myself and other sources for some exhibitions of typical crafts from areas which ordinary tourists will find difficulty in visiting?

If the hon. Member will let me have the suggestions, I will certainly consider them.

Broadcasting (Committee)

50.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will amend the terms of reference of the Broadcasting Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Beveridge, to require them to publish the evidence in full.

In view of the increasing Communist activities of the B.B.C. as typified last night in the outrageous broadcast called "The Marxist View," would the right hon. Gentleman make certain that none of this anti-Communist evidence is suppressed in the Beveridge Report? May I have a reply? No? Does not that prove that the right hon. Gentleman is a fellow traveller?

Can the Lord President tell the House whether it has been decided that the Exhibition should be open on Sundays?

At the moment we are on matters concerning the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The hon. Member asked a supplementary question to a Question which has not yet been asked.

International Refugee Organisation

54.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has now reconsidered the question of closing down the International Refugee Organisation; and what organisation he proposes to set up to carry on the resettlement work after 31st March, 1951.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
(Mr. Ernest Davies)