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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 480: debated on Monday 13 November 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Ministry Of Works

Decorating Firms (Registration)

1.

asked the Minister of Works what is the purpose of continuing the registration of decorating firms.

The registration of decorating firms, together with all other firms in the building and civil engineering industries, continues for the purpose of collecting statistics of employment and output in these industries.

Is this creation of a virtual closed shop in the decorating industry really justified for the sake of a few statistics?

Decorating forms a considerable part of the amount spent on maintenance, and it is considered absolutely necessary to keep a proper record.

Government Offices

2.

asked the Minister of Works who will occupy the block of offices to be built in the Headrow, Leeds, at an approximate total cost of £600,000.

The Inland Revenue, Ministry of Labour and Customs and Excise Departments. As I said the other week, no licence to build has yet been issued.

Will the Minister bear in mind that it is high time productive industry had access to the new office accommodation of the country rather than tax-consuming Government Departments such as this?

I think the hon. Gentleman is under a misconception. Where we erect those buildings we do it for the purpose of derequisitioning other buildings at present occupied by the staff. It is only done to that end.

3.

asked the Minister of Works how many new Government offices have been erected since the end of the war where the Government has taken over a long lease from a private owner.

4.

asked the Minister of Works the average annual rental per square foot, separately, in London and the provinces, paid in respect of Government offices erected and owned by private contractors.

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to office buildings erected since the war for lease to the Government under what is known as the Building Lessor Scheme. The average rents to be paid under these agreements are 7s. 8d. per square foot in the Metropolitan Police area and 6s. 6d. per square foot in the provinces.

Will those buildings count for the Government share of capital expenditure, or are they regarded for the purpose of the survey as outside it?

9.

asked the Minister of Works how many schemes for the building of office accommodation, to be leased wholly or partially to Government Departments, have been licensed in London in the past 12 months; and how many new applications for similar buildings are now under consideration.

Thirteen buildings and part of another building have been licensed in the past 12 months. Plans for future building are under review. Unless there is no other way of releasing requisitioned premises before emergency powers expire, none of these new building schemes will be proceeded with until I am satified both that on balance it offers financial advantage and that the material and labour required will not interfere with the housing programme.

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered using temporary buildings or even huts for Government offices in order to release the labour for house building?

What consultations take place with the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence? Every day we hear of more and more Government offices going up in London. Surely, from the strategic and civil defence points of view, it is the height of folly to have any more here.

I am in constant touch with the Departments concerned and we have not yet come across any difficulties.

Building Manpower

5.

asked the Minister of Works what is the total building force at the latest convenient date; and how it is apportioned to new house building, house repair, and civil engineering, &c.

The total building labour force at the end of September, 1950, is estimated to have been 1,068,000 operatives; 23.8 per cent. were engaged on new house building, 25.8 per cent. on house repair and 50.4 per cent. on all other work including civil engineering.

Could the Minister tell us whether this is less than the number last given as employed on house building, and will he reconsider this proportion and see that the operatives who should be building houses are directed into those quarters rather than into a mass of office and luxury building as at present?

I could not answer the first part of that supplementary question without some research, but I can assure the hon. Lady that, as far as possible, we get the necessary labour required for building houses and that whenever a report comes in to the effect that housing is being held up, we always take action.

Is the Minister satisfied with the percentage allocated to house repairs?

As the hon. Gentleman will no doubt know, maintenance is vitally important. If maintenance is let down, things always go wrong. I do not consider that any labour is wasted which is engaged on repairs.

10.

asked the Minister of Works the proportion of building manpower in Cardiff engaged on house building, maintenance and repair work and the construction of new offices, respectively.

The proportions of building manpower in Cardiff engaged on new house building, all maintenance and repair work and the construction of new offices at the end of October, 1950, were estimated to be 33.4 per cent., 40.6 per cent. and 2.6 per cent. respectively.

Building Licences

6.

asked the Minister of Works whether there is any arrangement whereby hon. Members can ascertain the requests for licences to build, other than housing, before the licences are actually granted.

No, Sir, but I am always ready to consider representations made to me by hon. Members about individual cases or particular types of cases.

Is the Minister aware that there is no possible way of hon. Members getting to know who has made a request for a licence—either through the local authority or through his regional departments? Can he take some steps to see that some of us, at any rate, are aware of who are making applications for licences, so that we can make some reference to it if necessary?

I should explain to the hon. Lady that the whole thing is somewhat formidable. As over 15,000 applications are received every month, I should need an army corps to do what the hon. Lady wants.

Is the Minister aware that the attempt of the hon. Lady to catch his eye before he issues licences is regarded as most unbecoming on this side of the House?

To avoid what happened to the Lambeth Borough Council, which only found out, by accident, the intention of the Minister to grant a £300,000 licence for shops and offices in Brixton, would my right hon. Friend ensure that at least the local authorities concerned should be informed of these applications or of the intentions of the Minister in relation to them?

Where large projects are involved, to the best of my knowledge local authorities are informed, but I will certainly look into it and see what can be done.

Would the Minister say whether he thinks it is desirable that these applications should be disclosed to hon. Members? Is there not something confidential in them?

Mobile Labour Force

12.

asked the Minister of Works if, in view of the amount of work in isolated areas and the requirements for National Defence, he is satisfied that the disbanding of the Mobile Labour Force at Porton will not mean increasing costs when the work is put out to contractors.

The Mobile Labour Force will complete the work for which it was required at Porton. Any further construction needed afterwards can be let out to contract and should not result in increased costs.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the Mobile Labour Force arrived in the Salisbury area work on temporary sites at Porton, on contracts for the War Office and at Oldstock Hospital, has come out at less than estimated cost, and that the force has built houses in Dover, Plymouth and for the L.C.C. at less than the contractor's estimated price? Before my right hon. Friend finally decides to disband this force, which it was costly to bring into being, will he give consideration to these points?

On a point of order. Could we have that supplementary question again, so that we can follow exactly the Minister's reply?

I will certainly study in the OFFICIAL REPORT what my hon. Friend has said. I can only assure him that the work of the Mobile Labour Force has been limited to work in cases where labour is not readily available or cases of great urgency. That is the policy we have been following.

Could my right hon. Friend look again at the whole question of this force, because it is doing a wonderful job and, as my right hon. Friend knows, throughout the country there have been constant complaints of building schemes having to be ignored because this force is not available?

As I have already said in the House, the work done by the Mobile Labour Force is quite admirable, but the conditions under which it was originally required have, thank goodness, passed, and I do not think it advisable, in the interests of the taxpayer, to keep it in being.

Before coming to a final decision, will my right hon. Friend consult with the trade unions of the building industry with a view to finding a solution of the difficulties which he mentioned and which, I know, are very real?

The trade unions are perfectly aware of what I am doing. They knew before I did it, and the Mobile Labour Force is not suddenly coming to an end. It is engaged on a considerable quantity of important work which should take about another 18 months to complete.

Coal Industry

Exports, Argentina

13.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the average price of coal being exported to the Argentine; and the corresponding figure for the same quality for 1938.

The average f.o.b. value of coal exported to the Argentine in the first eight months of 1950 was 82s. 8d. per ton. Taking those grades of coal which were exported in both 1938 and 1950 and for which average f.o.b. values are available, the average in 1938 was 20s. 11d.

Does that answer mean that the price of our coal to the Argentine has gone up by about four times since before the war, and is that greater than the increase which they are asking us to pay for their meat?

The prices of agricultural products which we have had have certainly risen largely. I should not like to say what is the exact proportion.

Miners (Redundancy)

14.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many miners have been dismissed during the first nine months of 1950 for other causes than the closing down of pits and redundancy; what was the figure for 1949 and what were the chief causes of their dismissal.

The number for the first nine months of 1950 is 4,600; for the corresponding months last year it was 7,300. The chief reason for the dismissals was persistent absenteeism.

In view of these alarming figures, has the Minister taken any fresh steps to try to cure this important problem?

The most effective step is good recruitment. Dismissals are about one half of 1 per cent. of the labour force per annum—that is about all. It is, I admit, a problem, but the hon. Member will recognise that we cannot send simply anybody down the mines. Lots of men are unsuitable for the work. Miners must be courageous, intelligent and strong.

Have those men any chance again of earning a living in the mining industry?

On whether it was judged that they would be good miners when taken back. They can always get other employment nowadays; it is not like the old days.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the percentage of absenteeism on the Opposition benches last week was greater than the figures which he has just mentioned?

Home And Export Supplies

17.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement on the subject of the supply of coal during the next six months to the home market and to the export market respectively.

19.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether adequate supplies of coal will be available to industrial and domestic consumers during the winter months.

26.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is satisfied that the nation's requirements for coal can be met by home production during the next 12 months.

As I have often said, we need more coal than we are getting, not only for export, but also for the domestic consumer and for other needs at home. The Government will make the essential requirements of the home market the first charge upon our resources. We shall certainly have some coal for export, although, as a result of the present levels of home consumption and output, the tonnage will be substantially less than it was a year ago.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the difficulty, especially to industrialists, in the uncertain state of fuel and power position, of carrying out the Government's request for increased exports and increased production for rearmament when, at present, very few industrialists can be certain that in any one week they will get the power for their present designed output?

I am in constant touch with industrialists on the subject and perhaps the hon. Member will draw my attention to any cases of failure.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind particularly the needs of domestic consumers, especially in crowded urban areas, who have not had any opportunity of laying in stocks because they have no storage facilities?

Could the right hon. Gentleman say what is the stocking position now?

The latest figure I have is for 28th October, when the distributed stocks were 15.4 million tons. To that we think we are entitled to add about 400,000 tons which have been distributed to domestic consumers under the summer prices scheme.

Does the original answer of the right hon. Gentleman mean that, owing to inadequate production by the coal industry, the Government are having to sacrifice the export trade and our foreign exchange requirements to home consumption?

No, Sir. What it means is that internal consumption has increased so greatly, owing to full employment, that we are having to postpone some exports.

22.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is satisfied that the National Coal Board will be able to maintain during the winter the export of coal at the same level as last year.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer which I have just given to Questions Nos. 17, 19 and 26.

In view of the importance of our balance of trade and the export of coal, in view of what the right hon Gentleman. said about declining manpower, and in view of the stock position, will he do everything he can to see that the export position is not entirely jeopardised?

Manpower

18.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is taking in view of the anticipated increase in demand for coal to recruit additional labour for the coal mines.

It is of urgent importance that the present decline in manpower in the mines should be checked and that the number of miners should, if possible, also be increased. The National Coal Board have this year recruited more newcomers to the industry than they did a year ago. But, in conditions of full employment, more men have also left the mines for other work, and since July some thousands of miners have joined the Armed Forces of the Crown.

The Coal Board and the Government view with particular concern the fall in the manpower at the face. They are now urgently considering what steps can be taken to check the present wastage, to induce more ex-miners to return to the pits, and to improve general recruitment. I am also asking the National Union of Mineworkers to consider how we can most effectively bring home to every miner the nation's urgent need for more coal during the corning winter months.

Has the Minister considered the possibility of recruiting labour, which can be done on terms by agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers, which would protect the home worker while securing, at any rate for a period of years, labour which would be only too glad to come and help us in this task?

That matter is under consideration by the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

In view of the acute manpower situation in the coal mines, will my right hon. Friend consult with the Minister of Defence to make sure that no further coal face or underground workers are called to the Forces?

Have the Coal Board conducted a scientific inquiry into the reasons why men are leaving the pits?

Summer Prices Scheme

20.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will make a statement of the results of the summer prices scheme for house coal.

The purpose of the summer prices scheme was to encourage domestic users to stock more coal during the summer months, and thus to lighten the burden of distribution during the winter, when the weather is hard. Since the scheme came into force on 25th May, the merchants and the cooperative societies have sold about one million tons more coal than they did a year ago. Their spokesmen assure me that, in spite of the weather, a substantial proportion of this coal is still in housholders' cellars and they think that their chances of avoiding a breakdown in winter distribution have been much improved.

It was a condition of the scheme that merchants should give priority in winter to householders who were unable to buy for stock in summer, because they had no space. I hope that householders who have bought in summer will help themselves and others by conserving their coal as carefully as they can.

Domestic Supplies (Quality)

21.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what has been the result of his review with the National Coal Board of the problems of supply of coal which he undertook as a matter of urgent importance on 20th March, 1950.

The Coal Board have made a redoubled drive for cleaner coal during the past six months. They have taken measures in all divisions to ensure the cleaner filling of coal and better picking. They have arranged for the discussion of the question in all colliery consultative committees, and. with the co-operation of the National Union of Mine workers, they have taken many other steps to make all their workers "clean coal conscious." After discussion with the distributive trade, the Board have withdrawn some coals which are inherently unsuitable for the domestic market.

The Board report, and the distributive trade agree, that there has been an improvement in the condition in which household coal now reaches merchants. The Board will not be satisfied until they have greatly increased their mechanical cleaning plant, and until the total output of coal permits them to supply the householders in each region of the country with the kinds and grades of coal, which they respectively desire.

While appreciating that there has been some improvement in quality, may I ask if the Minister will assure the House that the Coal Board will refrain from forcing on consumers types of coal not suitable and, if evidence of this kind is brought to him, will he give attention to it?

Certainly, Sir. I will give attention to any evidence, but it is certain that some kinds of coal will have to be sent to districts which do not gladly receive it. Leicestershire coal is readily burned in grates in Leicester, but nowhere else, because people do not know how to use it. Merchants are trying to teach people how to use unfamiliar coals.

When the right hon. Gentleman said "redoubled" did he really mean redoubled, multiplied by four?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of the clear coal seams, particularly in Lancashire, are worked out and that we have to resort to winning seams which bear a great percentage of foreign matter? Is he further aware that the screening plants in Lancashire are only 42 per cent. equal to dealing with the correct screening of the coal?

Yes, Sir. I have masses of statistics which support exactly what my hon. Friend has said.

Production And Consumption

23.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will give a forecast of the total production of coal and also inland consumption of coal over each of the next two years.

I regret that I am unable at present to make the forecast for which the hon. Member asks.

No, Sir. Every year, in the Economic Survey, we make an estimate of the consumption and output for the year. I do not want to anticipate that.

When are we to reach the same production of deep-mined coal as we had before the war?

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there has been an increase in coal production this year compared with last year?

Yes, Sir. There certainly has been—more than two million tons more.

Are there not estimates for two years ahead? As the normal planning is for five years ahead, why cannot the House have these figures?

There are estimates but they are not in a condition in which I would like to publish them now.

In view of the deplorable remarks of the Minister, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Horticultural Fuel (Prices)

29.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he can give the precise prices which have to be paid by purchasers of horticultural fuel, including the grades and prices of anthracite coal, in the various regions throughout the country.

I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the maximum retail prices of fuel which are fixed by my Department. These are settled by areas of which there are some hundreds. There are thousands of prices, which vary according to the quality of the coal, the distance of the consumer from the source of supply, the expenses of local distribution and so on. If my hon. Friend would specify the district, and, if possible, the type of fuel in which he is interested, I will endeavour to supply him with the information about price which he desires.

Electricity Supplies

Load Shedding

16.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that despite undertakings that farms will not suffer from temporary electricity cuts, load-shedding in Hampshire on 30th October stopped water pumping in farms and villages, prevented grinding and preparing of cattle food in the morning and electric milking machines in the afternoon; and whether he will give an assurance that such dislocation will not again be imposed upon the agricultural industry.

Every area electricity board makes every effort to avoid cutting off essential agricultural supplies. But I know of no pledge that farms would be immune from the effects of power-cuts, and I think that no such pledge can have been given since it would be technically impossible to carry it out.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has appealed to farmers to protect themselves and to help industry, by reducing their consumption of electricity to a minimum during the hours of peak demand. If a farmer, nevertheless, finds that a power-cut may cause him loss or inconvenience, he is asked to consult his area board. I am grateful to the hon. Member for this opportunity of drawing the attention of farmers to my right hon. Friend's appeal.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the district manager of the electricity area board at Basingstoke has stated, in reply to protests by farmers, that his instructions are to carry out cuts on a strict rota basis, regardless of whether those affected are farmers? Does the Minister realise that there simply is not the labour with which to milk cows except by machinery?

I am sure that the Board will try to adjust the rota in order to reduce inconvenience to a minimum, but I might point out that two of the jobs which are mentioned in the Question—pumping water, and the preparation of cattle food—seem to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to be eminently suitable for off-peak hours.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give instructions about this, because I assure him there is not the labour on many farms in Hampshire to milk cows except by electrical machinery?

I will do what I can, but the hon. Member should take up the matter with the Board.

27.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware of the continuing inconvenience and danger to patients in surgeries and hospitals arising from electricity cuts imposed after dusk, and that such inconvenience and danger is aggravated when cuts take place outside advertised times; and what steps he is taking to deal with this serious problem during the present winter.

Yes, Sir. Unfortunately, it is technically impossible to give hospitals and surgeries complete immunity from power cuts; but the electricity boards make every effort to give them warning when cuts are to be made. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said in reply to a Question on 8th November, the Electricity Sub-Committee of the National Joint Advisory Council are giving the whole problem of load spreading urgent and detailed consideration.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind—I am sure he will—how serious these unadvertised cuts can be in surgeries and hospitals where, very often, there is no alternative means of lighting? Will he do everything he can, in the broadest sphere, to avoid what are very often chaotic conditions resulting from unadvertised cuts?

I will do everything I can, but I have had no complaints about this matter. If the hon. Member knows of any, perhaps he will bring them to my attention.

In the event of cuts, will the right hon. Gentleman try to avoid any kind of similar inconvenience and danger in the case of electrically lit road signs?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of his replies, warnings are not being given to hospitals, and that some giving of notice would be of great value to hospitals that are without alternative sources of supply?

I hope that my hon. Friend will give me details. I also think that hospitals and surgeries ought, wherever possible, to have alternative means of lighting.

We have dealt with 27 Questions in 37 minutes. It does not look as though we shall get very far today.

Power Stations (Posters)

24.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement on the posters displayed by the British Electricity Authority headed "Another New Power Station."

On reflection, I think the hon. Member's Question deals with a matter affecting the day-to-day administration of the British Electricity Authority, on which it would not be desirable that I should comment in a reply.

Does the Minister recall that in reply to a supplementary question last week he expressly invited me to table a Question on this issue? Does he consider it consistent with the duty he owes to this House, having invited a Member to table a Question, then to decline to answer it?

My recollection, confirmed by others, was that I had spoken in my answer to the hon. Member of the general policy of advertising. HANSARD does not record that. If I was in error, I regret it, and I apologise, but I am quite certain that if I gave any other answer to the hon. Member's Question today I should not be adhering to the principle that I should not answer questions on matters of day-to-day administration.

Does the Minister's answer mean that he is prepared to answer a Question, if tabled in accordance with his recollection of his invitation, or does it mean that he declines to answer any question on this subject, notwithstanding his invitation?

On the question of general policy in regard to this matter, does the Minister recollect that I brought to his attention in July the question of an advertising agent employed by the Authority who regarded it as his duty to plead the case for nationalisation? In view of the facts, does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that it means that an expenditure of nearly £500,000 per year on posters dealing with power stations, not one of which has ever been erected by the British Electricity Authority, constitutes misleading propaganda for nationalisation?

No, I do not accept that at all. This year the British Electricity Authority will bring into commission 950 megawatts of power—30 per cent. more than in any year in our history.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests of accuracy, ask the British Electricity Authority to place upon each of these posters a slip saying, "This station was planned and started by private enterprise"?

As a matter of fact, of the 60 schemes on which work is now going forward only three were started by private enterprise.

Does the Minister realise that the psychological effect of this extensive advertising campaign is to cause consumers to use more electricity at a time when the right hon. Gentleman wishes them to use less?

I think that the hon. Member's question shows that he does not read the advertisements. A very large part of them is devoted to explaining to housewives and others that they should use as little electricity as possible at peak hours.

On a point of order. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's refusal to answer a Question, the putting down of which he expressly invited, I beg to give notice that I propose to raise the question of his behaviour in the matter at the earliest appropriate opportunity.

Isolated Farms (Supply)

25.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in the case of isolated farms where the financial cost of supplying electricity by the grid system is prohibitive, he will make a statement as to the directions which he proposes to give to the British Electricity Authority, with a view to encouraging the area boards to supply and operate modern diesel plants covering small inhabited localities.

It is the duty of the British Electricity Authority and of the area boards to decide what is the best method of supplying electric current to any particular consumer. I could not, therefore, issue any general directions of the kind which the hon. Member has proposed. But if he has any suggestions to make about some special place or district, I am sure that the area board concerned will be glad to consider it.

Will the Minister bear in mind that if area boards are further encouraged to consider this alternative, it would bring hope to a good many areas which have very little hope of getting an electricity supply in the near future in the ordinary way?

In the present state of capital investment it would be difficult to deal with the remote areas, whatever we do. But it may comfort the hon. Member to know that I hope that this year we shall have a rural development getting on for double that which we had in 1938.

Pool Petrol (Standard)

28.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will consider raising the standard of pool petrol to approximately 80 octane.

With the plant now available in sterling refineries, the standard of pool petrol could not be raised to 80 octane without a substantial increase in its lead content; I am advised that this would cause maintenance troubles with British engines. Moreover, the hon. Member's proposal would reduce the total output of motor spirit. For these reasons, as I think he will agree, it would be unwise to adopt it.

I agree with the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, but is it not a fact that the standard of branded petrol before the war was approximately 80 octane? Would the Minister not agree that a great deal of wear is caused to engines of all kinds of motor vehicles by the low standard of present day petrol?

Before the war we had three grades of petrol—commercial 68 octane, No. 1 grade 75 octane and top grade 80 octane. I am advised that very few vehicles used 80 octane. Nearly all of them used the other grades. To raise our petrol even to 75 octane would mean a loss of output.

Land Registration, Surrey

30.

asked the Attorney-General when it is proposed to extend the system of compulsory registration of title to land to the county of Surrey.

My noble Friend has this matter under consideration and is proposing to lay a draft Order in Council before both Houses of Parliament in accordance with Section 122 of the Land Registration Act, 1925, with a view to introducing compulsory registration in Surrey from 1st October, 1951.

Legal Aid Scheme

31 and 32.

asked the Attorney-General (1) how many of the local committees constituted under the Legal Aid Scheme did not hold their inaugural meeting in October;

(2) how many of the local committees constituted under the Legal Aid Scheme failed to set up certifying committees during October.

May I first remind the House that the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949, charges the Law Society with the administration of the Legal Aid Scheme subject to the general guidance of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. While, therefore, I am very glad to supply the House with all reasonable information, it will be recognised that I cannot accept the responsibility of answering for the day-to-day administration of the scheme. Subject to that caveat for the future, I readily give the answers to this and the following Question, which, with permission, I will take together. By 31st October all the 112 local committees had held their inaugural meeting and, in accordance with paragraph 9 of the Law Society's Scheme, had arranged for the summoning of certifying committees.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for the deposit in the Library of a complete list of the addresses of the area and local committees, for the benefit and convenience of hon. Members?

Is the reason for the right hon. and learned Gentleman declining to answer questions, that the industry to which he belongs has been nationalised?

Commission Of The Peace, Surrey

33.

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware that the "Surrey County Clarion," the organ of the Surrey Federation of Labour Parties, in its issue for August, 1950, states that three gentlemen identified therein by name have been nominated by the Surbiton Labour Party for consideration for appointment as justices of the peace; and whether, as these gentlemen will now, if appointed, inevitably be regarded as political nominees, consideration will be given to the undesirability on these grounds of appointing any of them.

I am aware that a statement has appeared in the "Surrey County Clarion" giving the names of three gentlemen which were said to have been submitted by the Surbiton Labour Party for consideration for appointment as justices of the peace. As the hon. Member has already been informed, the Lord Chancellor is of the opinion that it is undesirable for many reasons that the names of candidates for appointment to the commissions of the peace should be prematurely published, but he has no power to prevent publication by an independent body.

My noble Friend has no objection to any organisation, political or otherwise, suggesting to his advisory committees the names of persons considered to be suitably qualified for appointment as justices. If an advisory committee, after considering all the relevant circumstances, recommends a candidate for appointment as being in every respect suitable for the office of justice of the peace, my noble Friend would not decline to accept the recommendation solely on the ground that the name of the candidate had already been published as having been recommended by a particular organisation.

In view of the fact that this is the second occasion on which the organisation and publication in question have conducted themselves in this way, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman see that they now become aware of the view of his noble Friend in the matter?

I have no doubt that the Question that the hon. Member has put and the answer which has been given to it will receive proper publicity.

In view of the implication of the Question on the Order Paper, and of the supplementary question, can the Attorney-General say whether it is the fact that out of 25 Surrey county aldermen 15 are justices of the peace, and that, out of the 15, 14 are members of the Conservative Party?

I am not sure, and I am not concerned with the complexion of the Surrey County Council, but I hardly think that the addition of the names of three persons who may possibly be connected with the Labour Party will be felt to give rise to undue political bias.

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the deduction made by the general public from this statement in the "Surrey County Clarion" is that the submission of names was invited from this organisation, and will he deny that?

I think that there is no reason whatever to suppose that anyone would make so erroneous deduction, and in that regard I do not propose to add anything to the answer I have given.

Food Supplies

Meat

34.

asked the Minister of Food what was the result of the negotiations which took place with the Mexican Government in June, 1950, with regard to the purchase of Mexican meat for the British consumer.

The discussions showed that there is little hope, in the present state of the frozen meat industry in Mexico, of developing any substantial trade in the near future, but my Department will naturally keep in touch with the position.

The answer of the Minister refers to the "near future." Is not it a fact that the Mexican Government made an offer to equip the port of Tampico with packing and shipping facilities purchased in Britain, to pay for it themselves and to take British technical advice about the installation and management of the industry; and in view of the difficult meat position did he not pursue this offer further?

I myself saw representatives of Mexico, including the head of one of their leading banks which was prepared to finance this operation, but we had to consider all sorts of other factors, including freight charges and so on, and, on balance, we thought that at the moment it was not a really good offer.

In view of the difficulties of negotiating with the Argentine at present, does not the Minister think that this is a good time for healthy competition from Mexico?

If the circumstances under which we were buying meat were favourable, yes, but they are not so at the moment.

37.

asked the Minister of Food what alteration in the value of the weekly meat ration is contemplated by his Department during the period between this date and 31st January, 1951.

Has the Minister any statement to make about a meat bonus for Christmas, particularly in view of the fact that Norfolk turkeys are now selling wholesale at 9s. a lb. and are anticipated to go as high as 15s. a lb.?

In so far as the value of the ration should be related to its quality, what steps is the Minister taking during this period to ensure that meat of B grade is not sent by his Department to butchers marked A grade?

38.

asked the Minister of Food when shipments of meat from the Argentine ceased; and when they will be resumed.

Does the Minister realise that mutton shipments from the Argentine are now gravely prejudiced by the fact that the wool clip off the back of the live sheep is worth four times the value of the carcase? What is he doing to ensure the future continuity of Argentine mutton shipments?

I should prefer to make no further statement at present, as the talks are about to proceed again, and I cannot see that the Question of the hon. Member is very helpful on this point.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that while these meat negotiations are being protracted, all kinds of other trade and industry between the Argentine and this country, which is very much more important than meat in the values involved is being held up in consequence?

Bread Deliveries

35.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that retail bakers are finding it increasingly difficult to continue bread deliveries in the face of increased transport costs; and what action he proposes to take in the matter.

The bakers have made representations about this difficulty, and the matter is being investigated.

Will the right hon. Gentleman treat this matter as urgent, because many housewives are now finding that their deliveries of bread are being discontinued?

Ration Books

36.

asked the Minister of Food if, in view of rationing changes, a new simplified ration book will be issued when a new issue has to be made; and if he will now give details of the new book.

I can assure the hon. Member that the new ration book will be suitable for its purpose. In accordance with our usual practice details will be given when the books are issued.

Cannot the Minister now give effect to a simple registration without the necessity for the continual cutting out of coupons or the marking of them week by week?

The new book will be much simpler. I cannot now explain how much simpler it will be, but we are getting near the kind of thing which the hon. Member has in mind.

Slaughterhouses, Cornwall

39.

asked the Minister of Food the amount of square footage contained in slaughterhouses in Cornwall.

Thirty-two thousand three hundred and sixty-one square feet in those at present in use.

Is the Minister aware that this is insufficient for present requirements? Is he also aware that construction is being hindered by his refusal to state his post-war policy. When will he state his policy?

We have to take into account all sorts of factors, including how we can resume private trading in meat and yet carry out our guarantees both to the home farmer and overseas producer. It is a very complicated programme, and until it has been worked out I would rather not speculate about the slaughterhouse programme.

Sugar

40.

asked the Minister of Food what arrangements his Department are making to obtain additional sugar supplies from Jamaica.

I can only repeat—what I have said so many times—that my Department has already undertaken to purchase all the sugar Jamaica can send us until the end of 1952. Production is increasing and, if as I hope, she can send us more sugar next year, we shall certainly want it all. After 1952 Jamaica will, of course, participate in the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, which provides for exports from the West Indies substantially increased above present levels.

Has the Minister any comment to make on the statement made at the Guildhall on 23rd October last to the effect that he was not taking all the sugar offered by Jamaica and that the housewives of Britain should rise in revolt against him, that statement being made by the Speaker of the Jamaica Parliament?

I would hesitate to comment on any statement made by any Speaker, but I judge that Mr. Campbell was speaking about the ultimate arrangements, and not about present supplies. It is a fact that we are taking, and will take, all the sugar now being sent.

Official Secrets Acts

45.

asked the Prime Minister what is the normal practice in regard to security when a man who has been for some years in the employment of a Government Department, with access to top secret information, and is about to leave that Department, is found to have Communist inclinations or relationships.

All Government servants are subject to the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts, which apply not only during the period of employment but after employment has ceased.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the implication of some of the recent answers of the Minister of Supply about Professor Pontecorvo was that the Ministry of Supply had lost interest in him because he was about to leave the Ministry and go to a university town?

I do not think that it is a fair implication. When any civil servant in an important or secret post leaves, the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts are always brought prominently to his notice.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when this directive is being applied, the word "relationships" is used to mean the man's own personal connections and relationships with other people and not the opinions of his relatives abroad?

Transport, Northern Ireland

46.

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

It would be convenient if such Questions were addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, though the hon. Member will bear in mind that the Minister could do no more than consult with the Government of Northern Ireland.

Does this mean that there is no Minister directly responsible for deciding whether or not the railways in Northern Ireland are of strategic importance?

These are under the orders of the Northern Ireland Government. We cannot interfere with what they do.

Would it not be better if such Questions were put to the Minister of Defence?

That depends on the nature of the Question. It would be much easier to answer with regard to a particular Question than a generalised one involving matters of defence and transport.

47.

asked the Prime Minister how far the responsibilities of the Minister of Transport extend to Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has no responsibility in Northern Ireland for inland transport, including highways, railways, road transport, inland waterway, canals and docks. He is, however, responsible for merchant shipping and navigation, except as respects inland waters, the regulation of harbours and local health regulations; for H.M. Coastguard; and for the sea transport of Service personnel and cargoes.

Does the Minister of Transport have consultation with appropriate Northern Ireland Ministers on these matters?

Marshall Aid

48.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his negotiations with the United States of America regarding the continuance of Marshall Aid.

I have been asked to reply. It would not be appropriate to make any announcement before the talks are concluded.

While I appreciate that there is something in what the hon. Gentleman said, may I ask if he is not saying it rather late? I appreciate that there are many matters we do not want to discuss today, but the Home Secretary has made a statement, and is it not greatly in the public interest that the public should be told exactly what the Home Secretary meant?

I am sure that the statement made by the Home Secretary is not at all inconsistent with the carefully prepared and much fuller statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 31st October, to which I can usefully add nothing at the moment.

Might I point out that when I put down a similar Question to the Prime Minister, it was transferred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Perhaps the Prime Minister would be good enough to look into the matter.

The reason why I was asked to reply is that this matter is in the field of responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Natural Resources (Technical) Committee

50.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether the Import Substitution Panel of the Committee on Industrial Productivity has now been re-formed; under what name; and whether its reports will be published.

Following my statement to the House on 24th July last I have, after consulting my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, set up a Natural Resources (Technical) Committee which will cover the field of the former Imports Substitution Panel, and will be under Professor Zuckerman's chairmanship. I cannot undertake to publish the Committee's reports, which may be numerous and sometimes lengthy, but I will endeavour to keep the House suitably informed of anything of special public interest that emerges.

Is it my right hon. Friend's intention that this Committee will be on a permanent basis?

I should not like to say that. It certainly is not too temporary, but I never like to commit myself to permanence in the way of committees. It is always right to review them from time to time.

Festival Of Britain

Scientific Staff

51.

asked the Lord President of the Council what are the names and locations of the universities of which the senior scientific staff of the science department of the Festival of Britain Office given on the 17th October, 1950, are graduates.

Three members of the staff referred to are graduates of the University of Cambridge. Of the remainder, two are graduates of London University, one of Bristol University, one of the Military College of Science and one is a Doctor of Philosophy of the Intercollegiate University of Delaware in the United States.

Opening Ceremony

52.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will consider arranging the opening ceremony of the Festival of Britain on a Saturday, in place of Thursday, 3rd May, so that more people may attend and so that the world broadcasts are more widely heard.

The arrangements for the opening ceremony of the Festival of Britain and all the other arrangements which are contingent on it are now so advanced that any alterations in the date would be most inadvisable.

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind, in view of the need for maximum productivity in this country, and for the widest world publicity, the desirability of having functions of this nature on a Saturday?

I appreciate the point, but there are arguments the other way. If the official opening had been on a Saturday, a good many people would not have been able to go—at any rate, until late. Moreover, if we open the Festival on the Thursday, we shall be more ready for the Saturday rush.

In view of the historical interest, would it not be better to open the Festival on the Greek Kalends?

Funds (Regional Allocations)

53.

asked the Lord President of the Council what percentage of the funds voted for the Festival of Britain have been allocated to projects in England, Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively.

I cannot at this critical stage in the Festival preparations instruct the staff to lay aside their very urgent tasks in order to make theoretical calculations. The House will appreciate that much of the Festival expenditure is not assignable as between different parts of the United Kingdom and that any arbitrary attempt to split the totals in this way would be artificial and misleading.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is great uneasiness on this subject because, out of the £10 million allocated, the miserable sum of £30,000 is going to Wales?

As a matter of fact, it is more than that. My recollection is that this is the first national function for which we have had committees for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and made special provision; but it is perfectly clear that, inevitably, in a national effort of this kind, the capital is bound to attract the greater part of the expenditure. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are most anxious that it shall be representative all over the country.

54.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether some part of the funds voted for the Festival of Britain can be allocated to the erection of a public hall in Llanrwst, which town, as the home of the National Eisteddfod in 1951, will be the chief Festival centre in the Principality.

The Festival of Britain Office is not empowered to allocate any part of its funds for the purpose, but I understand the Arts Council has offered £4,000 to the Llanrwst County Hall Association towards costs of the public building and that this has been accepted.

Could the Lord President tell us whether, as the Welsh Festival Committee has done a great deal to assist in the building of this hall, he will now receive further representations from the Llanrwst Urban District Council on the matter?

No, Sir. That is an unreasonable request. I have to be careful of the Festival of Britain being exploited for the purpose of making ad hoc grants to local authorities for other matters. In addition to the £4,000 towards the capital cost, the Arts Council has offered a grant of £6,000 to the National Eisteddfod for running costs. The hon. Gentleman must not think that we are too simple.

is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the indignation at the small amount granted to Wales is not confined to Llanrwst, and that unless a greater sum is made available to the Llanrwst Urban District Council, there will not be one permanent building as a memorial of the Festival of Britain in the whole of Wales?

I was not aware that the purpose of the Festival was to erect permanent memorial buildings.

Diplomats (Travel Rights)

56.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will now accord to diplomats from Communist-controlled countries the same travel rights as they allow to our representatives in their countries.

As explained in the reply given to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) on 18th October, the movements of our diplomatic representatives are restricted in certain Communist-controlled countries. No restrictions on the movements of representatives of Communist-controlled states are at present applied in this country, but the situation is being carefully watched.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, while we do not want to reproduce in this country conditions which generally compare with those in Communist countries, it is undesirable that we should allow our representatives to be so restricted while we allow this freedom to the representatives of those countries?

We are watching the position very carefully, and the situation has not deteriorated in those countries. We are very reluctant to adopt, in peacetime, methods more appropriate to totalitarian countries.