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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 480: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1950

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Supplementary Questions

Before I call upon the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), I should like to warn hon. Members that if I am rather severe on supplementaries today, it will be because there have been so many complaints that we do not reach later Questions on the Paper, entirely due, of course, to the number of supplementaries.

Telephone Service

London Area

1.

asked the Postmaster-General when he expects the automatic telephone service in the London area to be restored to its pre-war standard of operation.

A comprehensive overhaul of the automatic telephone exchanges in London has recently been completed, and regular sampling of the service shows that the average standard of service is now rather better than pre-war. If the hon. Member has any particular cases of difficulty in mind, I shall be glad to make inquiry.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the Abbey Exchange one frequently dials at least three times without anything happening at all, particularly when one is trying to get Temple Bar? Does he really think that that happened in pre-war days?

My information is that the average standard now is better than it was in pre-war days, but I will take notice of the hon. Member's complaint and write to him about it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously contend that it is now easier to get either "Trunks" or "toll" than it was in pre-war days?

22.

asked the Postmaster-General how many applicants are now waiting for telephones in the London area.

What is the position with regard to essential equipment needed to increase this service? Is this equipment still being exported? Is any more being made available for the home service?

It is not a matter of equipment; it is a matter of capital allocation. I would like to point out that last year, ending 30th September, we installed 109,785 telephones in this area.

Can my right hon. Friend explain the enormous demand for telephones from every part of the country, in view of the fact that this wicked Government are stifling private enterprise and have brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy?

In view of this very long waiting list, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why his officers are touring my constituency looking for new subscribers?

It is still necessary to ascertain the potential demand in any area.

Capital Expenditure

5.

asked the Postmaster-General on what basis he allocates capital expenditure in respect of telephone services in the various postal areas.

In allocating the limited capital resources of the Post Office, provision must be made on a national basis for the installation and accommodation of additional plant to cater for the growth of traffic in the trunk and overseas services. For local services, which absorb the bulk of the capital expenditure, allocations are made to the Post Office regions, and through them to the telephone areas, on the basis of the best practical distribution of resources, having regard to the relative present and prospective needs.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of these areas believe that the allocations finally made to them are on the basis of previous requirements and that that is not satisfactory, in view of changing populations and changing emphasis?

I had some reason to think that myself, but I have made certain alterations and I think that, in future, allocations will be found more in accord with potential demand.

Would the Postmaster-General not now consider approaching the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a re-allocation of capital resources for the telephone service, as it is one of the most effective instruments in an efficient production and export drive?

That is always in my mind, but I am afraid I should not have the approval of the House in asking for the release of building materials and building labour to construct exchanges.

Installation Priorities

19.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will state the order of priorities on which decisions are taken for the installation of telephones; and how far preferential consideration is given to schools before people urgently requiring telephones for their business.

First priority for telephone service is given to the essential requirements of public utilities, health and life saving services, Government departments, and businesses engaged on production and distribution for export or for saving imports. In the lower categories, educational institutions and certain classes of business take precedence over other applicants.

Birmingham

26.

asked the Postmaster-General how many applicants were waiting for telephones in Birmingham at the latest available date; and how long it will be before the existing shortage is overcome.

There were 15,180 on 30th September, 1950. These will be partially met by the provision of additional equipment and cables this year and next, but in view of our limited resources I regret that I cannot say when it will be possible to meet all outstanding applications.

Is the Minister satisfied that adequate progress is being made, especially in regard to the residential applicants, many of whom have been waiting for a very long time? Is he aware that there is a very long list?

We installed 8,600 telephones in this exchange area in the last year, which is certainly making an impact upon the problem. I regret to say that residential applicants will have to wait until we have met the needs of the more essential applicants.

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there is likely to be considerably increased production activity in the Birmingham area as a result of the rearmament drive, and also that, as a result of the grave anxieties about raw materials, there is likely to be a considerable increase in the number of urgent calls?

In the allocation to the regions that is one of the considerations I am bearing in mind.

In recognising the necessity for restricting exports of telephone equipment, would my right hon. Friend bear in mind also the need to keep open foreign markets?

Heywood Exchange

30.

asked the Postmaster-General what progress is being made with the work at the Heywood telephone exchange; and if he will state when new subscribers will be connected.

The extension of the exchange was completed on 14th October and service is being given to new subscribers, in cases where wires in the local cables are available, as quickly as our labour resources allow.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how long it will be before all those who have been on the waiting list for such a long time will be able to be connected?

Would the right hon. Gentleman not have been able to do the job more quickly if he had not put up a new exchange at Torquay with 500 lines for all the delegates at the conference there?

Post Office

Postmen (Establishment)

2.

asked the Postmaster-General what is the establishment of postmen in his Department; to what extent the number falls short of establishment; in what areas; and what steps he is taking towards recruitment.

On 1st July. 1950, the authorised establishment of full-time postmen was 80,647. The number employed was 1,618 short of establishment, the shortage being mainly in the London and Home Counties areas and at certain industrial centres in the Midlands and Lancashire. Special measures are taken, in co-operation with the Ministry of Labour and National Service, in areas where difficulty is experienced in obtaining recruits.

In view of the fact that the establishment is short of the number required, will the Postmaster-General consider abolishing the upper age limit of 40 or 45, in the case of ex-Service men, that he is at present imposing?

There are difficulties about that. I am looking at it sympathetically to see what I can do, but it would raise the age of promotion to a very unreasonable level.

Staff (Political Activities)

4.

asked the Postmaster-General at what level in his Department the ban on spare-time political activity is applied.

Restrictions on political activities apply to staff above first-line supervisors in the minor, manipulative, engineering and allied grades. They apply without exception to other grades, the bulk of which are common to all Government Departments.

What is the reason for this distinction, apart from the obvious one of restricting activities to the proletarian level?

It has been held for a very long time in this House that high-grade civil servants ought not to interfere in political life.

Canteens

6.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that many post office canteens are below the accepted standard, and that post office men are required themselves to pay for improvements; and, in view of the big Post Office surplus, what steps he will take to improve the position.

All Post Office can teens receive financial assistance in the way of free accommodation and other facilities, which vary according to local conditions. The space provided is in some cases below standard but, unfortunately, major improvement is at present held up by the restriction on capital expenditure. I am considering the question of giving additional assistance in certain cases.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot say that he is serious about getting staff in difficult areas like the Midlands when these canteens are miserably below the standard set in a decent private firm? Why should postmen, whose earnings are not very high, be called upon to pay a penny a week towards improving their canteen? I think it is disgraceful.

There are three types of canteens. Those which are now run as clubs naturally bear some responsibility for their club activities but, in general, I am trying to take a generous view of the assistance we should give in these cases.

Engineering Unions (Conference)

7.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will place in the Library a copy of the shorthand note of the conference presided over by him on 26th September, 1950, between representatives of the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) Association and the Post Office Engineering Union.

13.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will make available to the House the verbatim report of the meeting held on 26th September between himself and members of the Post Office Engineering Union and E.O.(T.)A.

No shorthand record of this conference was taken, but I have placed in the Library copies of a full report of the proceedings.

Can my right hon. Friend assist further conferences by making it clear that the Trades Union Congress is not affiliated to the Labour Party?

Facilities, Cardiff

20.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has considered the public petition from the residents of Ely, Cardiff, concerning the provision of more adequate post office facilities in that area; and whether he will make a statement.

Later Collections

21.

asked the Postmaster-General in which towns will later collections begin early in the new year.

I am not yet in a position to add anything to my answer to the hon. Member's Question of 8th November.

Will the right hon. Gentleman at least say whether it is intended to have this later collection both in the London postal district and in the towns of Greater London?

Yes, Sir; that is the intention and the details are being worked out in the various localities now.

Christmas Mails (Malaya)

27.

asked the Postmaster-General what was the normal date on which letters and parcels delivered by sea mail to Malaya had to be posted before the war in this country in order to arrive in time for Christmas; and what are the comparative dates to-day.

The comparable dates in 1938 and this year for the all-sea route are 12th and 8th November respectively, but in 1938 letters were sent by air under the Empire Air Mail Scheme and could be posted up to 2nd December.

Supervising Officers (Pay)

28.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is now in a position to make a statement on the result of the appeal by the Federation of Post Office Supervising Officers for improved pay.

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave to the hon. Member on 25th October.

In view of the fact that the differential has completely disappeared from this class, can nothing be done to speed up the decision?

Broadcasting

Airmet Service

3.

asked the Postmaster-General what progress has been achieved towards the restitution of the Airmet system of broadcasts.

12.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will now make a further statement about the possibility of restoring the Airmet broadcast service.

14.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware of the continued disappointment amongst farmers, fishermen, airmen and civil engineers by the suspension of the Airmet broadcasts; and what plans he has in hand for restoring this service.

I am aware that the Airmet service was of value to various sections of the community who are anxious to see the facilities restored. I regret, however, that as stated in my reply to the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo) on 18th October, it has not been found practicable to make any broadcasting frequency available for the restoration of the Airmet service.

The possibility of improving the weather information available to the public is being considered in conjunction with other departments and the B.B.C., and I understand that some amplification of the B.B.C. weather forecasts will be introduced shortly.

In view of the need for more frequent weather bulletins, has the right hon. Gentleman considered either the possibility of getting a wave-length on, say, the 49 metre band or, in view of infringement of the agreement by Russia, of using some of the Russian wavelengths?

The new weather broadcast will commence next Sunday, and I should like hon. Members to consider the result of that. Perhaps they might raise the matter again if it is not satisfactory.

Interference

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that interference from the British Broadcasting Corporation's European Service is spoiling reception of the Light Programme in the Scarborough area; and what steps he will take to remedy this.

The B.B.C. has had no evidence of any persistent interference from its transmissions to Europe with reception in the Scarborough area of the Light Programme on 1500 metres, 200 kc/s., the wavelength intended to serve this area. There has, however, been some evidence of occasional interference, and the B.B.C. is investigating the matter. If the hon. Member has any specific information about the interference, I should be glad to have it.

Is the Postmaster-General aware that licence holders in the Scarborough area feel they are not getting value for their money, and that he may find they are very reluctant to renew their licences unless he can improve these services?

10.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that the persistent interference, believed to be from Russia or Spain, experienced in the Yorkshire coastal area, is ruining reception on the North Regional Programme; and what steps he is taking to remedy this.

I am aware of this interference, and I have made representations to the Administrations concerned.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although there was a temporary improvement, it is now worse than ever, and that last night there was keen and rather successful competition with the nine o'clock news by a choir from abroad? Will he consider establishing a subsidiary relay station in the area?

We have got rid of the Spanish interference, but I am afraid we now have renewed Russian activity. We have written to the Russians, drawing their attention to this, and we shall have to consider other steps.

Will the Minister reply to my question—whether he will consider establishing a subsidiary station?

Is the Minister aware that these difficulties are not confined to the North-East coast but are very noticeable on the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk, where they have persisted for some time? Will he do all he can to help us?

18.

asked the Postmaster-General if his attention has been drawn to interference with British Broadcasting Corporation's programmes on the North-East coast of England; and what steps he proposes to take to correct this.

I understand from the B.B.C. that the Light and Third Programmes should, generally, be received free from interference. The Northern Home Service is unfortunately subject to interference from Spanish and Russian transmitters, and I have made representations to those Administrations.

If the Minister's representations are not successful then, in view of the inaudibility of many of these programmes, will he seriously consider reducing the cost of licences when they come to be renewed?

Is it not true that my right hon. Friend has had similar complaints from licence holders in Carlisle, and will he also look into that matter?

Aircraft And Shipping (Distress Signals)

15.

asked the Postmaster-General why he declined the offer of the Radio Society of Great Britain to assist in listening for aircraft or shipping in distress, in view of the assistance received from amateur radio operators during the search for the trawler "Milford Viscount," and when this assistance would be at no cost to the public.

The standing arrangements for the reception in the United Kingdom of signals from ships and aircraft in distress at sea are generally found to be adequate. Where it is considered advisable exceptionally to augment these arrangements, the assistance of the public, including amateur radio operators belonging to the Radio Society of Great Britain, will be invited.

Does not the Minister think that at this time it would be a wise thing to get going a system which might be very useful later? In view of the signal service which is rendered by this society, would he give them more encouragement?

This matter arose out of the loss of the "Milford Viscount." That is the subject of inquiry at present, and I think I ought not to say anything about the use of amateurs until that inquiry has been completed. There is a lot of confusion, and if these amateurs are to assist us, it must be under very strict supervision.

Bbc Staff (Aliens)

16.

asked the Postmaster-General how many persons employed by the British Broadcasting Corporation are aliens.

A total of 318 aliens are in temporary employment by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

In view of that very serious statement, the well-known Communist technique of infiltration and the enormous power for good or ill of the B.B.C., will the right hon. Gentleman, in the national interest, keep the personnel and the material broadcast under very close review?

Is it not a fact that most of these aliens were employed by the B.B.C. during the war and gave most loyal service?

Television

Wales

24.

asked the Postmaster-General what progress has been made by the British Broadcasting Corporation in its negotiations for a new site for the Cardiff television station; and what is the location of the new site.

The B.B.C. is awaiting the agreement of the local authority before completing negotiations for the acquisition of the new site, which is on St. Lythan's Downs, near Wenvoe.

May I ask the Postmaster-General whether it is likely that the rural district council will hold up this development much longer?

I am hoping to get their co-operation in this matter, because we have wasted three months on this.

Is it not a fact that the rural district council are not holding this up, but that the Air Ministry caused a very long delay, and that they—not the rural district council—are responsible for holding it up?

No, Sir. The St. Nicholas site was cleared with the Air Ministry very quickly. It was the rural district council which stopped it there.

Scotland

29.

asked the Postmaster-General when it is proposed to extend television to cover the extreme North of Scotland.

The present programme provides for a station to be installed at Aberdeen. Until experience is obtained of the range of this station, it will not be possible to determine what further steps should be taken to extend television coverage.

In view of the peculiar topography of Scotland, it is very difficult to forecast.

Could the Postmaster-General say whether some small rural district council is holding up this development?

While I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's last remark, may I ask him when the station is to be established in Aberdeen?

That information has been given previously. I have not the information with me at the moment.

31.

asked the Postmaster-General whether the proposed new Scottish television station will have its own studios to enable it to make its own Scottish television.

No, Sir, but it will, however, have outside broadcast facilities for televising Scottish events.

I think it is a pity, for Scotland could make a contribution. Would the Minister say why it has taken such a long time to put up this station?

The building of a television station is a very complicated and intricate job and one that cannot be done in five minutes.

Royal Air Force

Accidental Bombing, Malaya

33.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement regarding the accidental bombing of Utan Simpang estate in Malaya.

During a bombing attack on 4th November against an area into which a force of terrorists had been driven, a stick of five bombs was released prematurely and one bomb fell outside the target area near a group of rubber workers. I am informed that 13 people were killed and 16 injured. My right hon. Friend deeply regrets this unfortunate accident, the causes of which are not fully established, and a full report has been called for.

How far was this place from the actual target? Secondly, what compensation is being given in respect of those who, unfortunately, have been killed?

I cannot say exactly how far it was. That is one of the things which is being investigated. I have not yet got the information on the compensation being paid, but as soon as we have a report I will give the hon. Gentleman full details.

Has the hon. Gentleman satisfied himself that bombing is an effective means of clearing up the emergency? Will he consult with the Secretary of State for War to see whether more mortar ammunition could be made available to the troops?

Training Scheme, Canada

34.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will reconsider the air training scheme in Canada with a view to its early expansion.

Great importance is attached by the Government to the generous initiative of the Canadian Government in providing training facilities in Canada for a number of pilots and navigators of the R.A.F. Any question of the expansion of this scheme is a matter for further discussion between the two Governments in the light of the defence programmes of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries which are now taking shape, and the hon. Member may be assured that this and other possibilities are under urgent examination.

How long will it be before the Under-Secretary will be able to make a statement? Is he aware of the urgent need to expand the scheme, in view of actual and potential commitments?

That obviously depends partly on the response of the Canadian Government.

Surplus Equipment (Sale)

36.

asked the Secretary of State for Air how much the sale of surplus equipment from the Royal Air Force No. 61 Maintenance Unit, Handforth, Cheshire, and No. 35 Maintenance Unit, Bowlee, near Manchester, realised; and how much it is estimated it would cost to replace the articles sold.

The sale realised £51,336. Many of the articles sold will not be replaced. Such replacement as may be required is made in the ordinary course of provisioning and, in consequence, I am not in a position to say how much it would cost.

Could the Under-Secretary explain to the House why Press photographers were not admitted to the sale? It was said that it was for security reasons; yet anybody else could go in, by buying one of these catalogues—one of which I have here—by correspondence, and paying 6d. for it.

I could give a good many reasons why one could let ordinary citizens into a defence area while not letting in people with cameras.

Military Transport

36.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what arrangements have been made with British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways Corporation, and with charter companies for the transport of Army formations and equipment in an emergency.

The use of the Corporations and charter companies for any emergency airlift in peace-time which was beyond the resources of the R.A.F. would be arranged under normal contract procedure at the time. The use of the Corporations in war is now being discussed with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Boards of the Corporations. All the larger charter companies have been given full details of the scheme for forming auxiliary transport squadrons. The first of such squadrons was formed on 1st November.

But if these aircraft are to be used in an emergency, in peace-time or in war, ought not preparatory arrangements—load tables, for instance —to be fixed well in advance? Will the hon. Gentleman see that if that has not been done already, it is done as quickly as possible?

The R.A.F. does carry out exercises in loading aircraft, and with aircraft which are either identical with or very similar to aircraft of the Corporations and charter companies.

Is it not a fact that most of the aircraft with which the Corporations and charter companies are now equipped would not be strong enough to carry light tanks or jeeps and heavy equipment of that sort? What preparation is being made for carrying such equipment by military aircraft?

That is another question. There is another similar to that later on, the answer to which will probably answer the hon. Gentleman's point.

42.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what progress has been made on the design and development of a rear-loading aircraft for military transport purposes.

The prototype of a military transport aircraft embodying rear-loading has been constructed in this country and is now being used for experimental purposes.

Meteorological Staff

37.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he is aware that W. J. Stewart with five years' service in the Forces during the war and three years' service in the Meterological Office, now stationed at Pitreavie Castle, Dunfermline, after being established, is now receiving £32 less in basic salary for the same work as before establishment, £5 per year less for irregular hours, £4 per year less for night duties, and his increment date put back from May to January; and if he will attempt to improve this man's position.

Mr. Stewart is receiving the salary and allowances authorised for an established appointment in his grade under regulations which are of general application, and is, of course, now on a pensionable basis. It is not uncommon for a temporary officer to have to suffer a drop in salary on accepting a permanent post as a result of an open competition.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this man had five years' service in the Army, that he has an intermediate certificate, that he has done his work very well, that he is now 28 years of age, and that his wages are £5 9s. a week? Does my hon. Friend consider that a really satisfactory wage?

I think my hon. Friend must remember that this man had a perfectly free choice. He could have remained on a temporary basis at a slightly higher salary if he had wanted to, but he chose otherwise.

38.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what is the number of meteorological assistants to the nearest possible date; and how many assistants voluntarily left the Department during the 12 months preceding the date taken.

The number of civilian meteorological assistants on 31st October, 1950, was 1,236. The number who resigned during the previous 12 months was 155.

Does my hon. Friend not think that the tremendous percentage of resignations is an indication that the general conditions obtaining in that Department are not satisfactory?

No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The conditions have recently been improved, and the number resigning has been steadily decreasing during the last three years.

39.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what is the number of married men, to the nearest date, on the meteorological staff; how many of such men are provided with houses by his Department; and what are the prospects for housing these men in the near future.

There are 838 married men on the staff of the Meteorological Office, of whom 22 serving in the U.K. and 40 serving abroad, are housed in official accommodation. Additionally, a house is to be provided for a meteorologist at each of 40 Royal Air Force stations in this country. I should make it clear that meteorological staff, like other civilians, make their own living arrangements, but are eligible, in common with other Air Ministry civilian staffs, for such houses as the Department has at its disposal.

Is my hon. Friend aware that if he looks into the whole question of housing for those in this particular Department, he will find that the position is not satisfactory, and not up to the standards of the other Departments of the Civil Service? It is time he made a personal investigation into the matter.

Rescue Operations

40.

asked the Secretary of State for Air to what extent the coast of Britain is covered for air/sea rescue operations.

A number of R.A.F. aircraft are held at readiness to undertake search and rescue operations at any hour of the day or night. They are so stationed as to cover the whole area of the British Isles and sea areas within their range. In addition, arrangements exist under which aircraft of all R.A.F. Commands and the Royal Navy can be called upon to assist in the search, as well as R.A.F. launches and Naval vessels. Civil aircraft, lifeboats and merchant vessels also co-operate.

In view of the importance of this service, has the Under-Secretary considered the possibility of using auxiliaries to supplement the Regular Forces, which could he used to back them up in case of hostilities?

Yes, we are considering that now. We should like to do it, but it has not a very high priority at this time.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that boats of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution are frequently called out on abortive operations? Will he check up on the operations in the Air Sea Rescue Service itself?

601–604 Auxiliary Squadrons (Accommodation)

41.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what arrangements are being made to house the personnel of 601–604 Auxiliary Squadrons, which were recently moved from Hendon to North Weald, now that their week-end accommodation at North Weald has been taken over by Regular Service personnel.

Adequate accommodation arrangements have been made for the personnel of Nos. 601 and 604 Auxiliary Squadrons. They are comfortably housed in newly decorated brick built barrack blocks.

Would the hon. Gentleman say when that accommodation was found for them, because last week-end they had to go back to their homes and could not be accommodated on the aerodrome? We do feel that priority should be given to these people who are so important for the fighter defence of this country. We feel that they have not a high enough priority.

My information is entirely contrary to the hon. Gentleman's. I understand that each squadron has two separate barrack rooms available for it, which have not yet been filled at any week-end.

Civil Aviation (Fog Dispersal Apparatus)

43.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, how long it takes for Fog Investigation Dispersal Operation's apparatus at Blackbushe and Manston airports to be brought into operation after a request has been made.

It would take a maximum of five minutes from the pilot's initial request to Air Traffic Control to the time the executive order is given. From that point, I am informed that the apparatus at Manston can be fully operational within 30 minutes.

As I informed the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) on the 8th November, 1950, F.I.D.O. is not now available at Blackbushe.

Does the hon. Gentleman mean by that that when a request is made, within 30 minutes the fog dispersal equipment could be operated? Will he say why the equipment at Blackbushe is not available?

The equipment at Blackbushe is not available, because, as I said last week, during the time it was available, with the attendant expense, it was never required by any aircraft landing. In our view, one installation at Manston is sufficient. In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, I meant what I said, that within a total of 35 minutes, this apparatus can be fully operational.

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether Manston aerodrome is equipped with a blind approach system to work in co-operation with F.I.D.O.?

Armed Forces

National Service Men (Pay)

45.

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will consider bringing proposals before Parliament whereby National Service men engaged in areas of active service will receive similar pay and allowances to Regular members of His Majesty's Forces.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) on 19th September.

Will the right hon. Gentleman not take into consideration the fact that there is a strong feeling amongst Service personnel and the general public that equal risks and equal service should carry equal pay and equal allowances?

All relevant considerations were taken into account when this matter was decided, and I think there was some discussion in the House.

Are we not to assume that when a man is sent to an area on active service he is regarded as being a trained and qualified fighting man? Ought he not, therefore, to receive a trained man's rates of pay?

Extended Service

46.

asked the Minister of Defence by what means it is hoped to widen the field of employment of older members of His Majesty's Forces.

The revised R.A.F. trade structure which comes into effect on 1st January next will make it possible for a substantial proportion of airmen to continue to serve, if they wish, up to the age of 55. The other two Services are examining the possibility of extending Service careers to a later age.

>Western Defence

47.

asked the Minister of Defence what proposals he is making in conjunction with the other powers in the planning of the defence of Western Europe that adequate stocks of strategic materials are held; and whether such stocks are to be held centrally or by individual countries.

The North Atlantic Council have instructed the Council Deputies to consider how the problem of strategic materials can best be dealt with, and the Council deputies have the matter under consideration.

Could the Minister say whether, since this matter was discussed in the debate here two months ago, there has been any real progress in new methods or in accumulating a greater proportion of stocks?

I should not care to say whether any real progress has been made. The matter is before the deputies. They are the appropriate body to deal with this.

Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that newsprint is a strategic material, and that if supplies are cut off from Scandinavia in a future war, and if there is no newsprint, the morale of the people will fall to nil?

I cannot imagine what that question has to do with the Ministry of Defence.

48.

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement on the Atlantic Pact defence talks at Washington.

As my reply is rather long I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions.

50.

asked the Minister of Defence what proposals have been received by His Majesty's Government from the French Government for the provision of air forces for their proposed European force; and whether it has been decided who will provide these squadrons.

The French Government have made no proposals to His Majesty's Government on this subject.

Will the right hon. Gentleman state at the end of his statement on his report on the Washington talks what an army can do without an air force? It seems to us a little nebulous to make any statement without discussing the air side which is necessary to protect an army.

I do not know whether I am to include it in my statement at the end of Questions, but I think that we all have a fair grasp of the obvious.

Home Guard And Civil Defence

49.

asked the Minister of Defence when he will be in a position to make a statement about the resuscitation of the Home Guard.

On a point of order. Does not the word "resuscitation" mean bringing back from death? May I point out that the Home Guard are by no means all dead?

I am not responsible for this Question. The hon. and gallant Member should put his query to the hon. Member who put down the Question, and not to me.

The Government have decided that a Home Guard should be raised on a part-time basis in a future emergency. The Home Guard will not be enrolled before an actual emergency arises, but planning measures are being put in hand at once, including the appointment of a Home Guard Adviser in each Army Command at home, which will ensure that a substantial force can be enrolled, organised and armed within a few weeks of the order to proceed.

The Home Guard will form part of the Armed Forces of the Crown, and its functions will be broadly similar to those which the Home Guard performed so admirably in the recent war. They will be concerned mainly with supporting the Regular Forces by relieving them of certain subsidiary tasks, and with giving assistance to the civil authorities in a wide range of duties. The Home Guard will be raised and operated on a Territorial basis, and will be administered by the War Office through the medium of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations. Command will be exercised through normal Service channels.

The Government recognise that the duties which may have to be performed by part-time services in a future emergency cannot accurately be estimated in advance, so as to enable a precise allocation of part-time manpower to be made between Civil Defence and the Home Guard. The plans for each Service will, therefore, have to be made with a considerable degree of elasticity.

In the meantime, the Government desire to make it plain that no one should refrain from volunteering now for part-time work in the Civil Defence services or in the Special Constabulary on the ground that he might more suitably serve later on in the Home Guard. The training which potential Home Guard members would receive by joining Civil Defence services or the Special Constabulary would be of considerable value if they should later wish to join, and can be accepted for, the Home Guard on its formation.

Will the Minister make it quite plain that those who wish to join the Home Guard and who meanwhile engage themselves in Civil Defence duties will not be prejudiced in their chance of joining the Home Guard immediately it is resuscitated?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows that there is an important point here. Many men would prefer to join the Home Guard rather than any other organisation. Is there any undertaking—I could not quite follow the statement—that in the meanwhile, if they do join the Civil Defence Service and the Home Guard is then constituted, they can transfer to the Home Guard?

Yes, Sir. That is the intention. Anyone who wishes may transfer from Civil Defence to the Home Guard, provided that there is a place in the establishment. I imagine that no difficulty will arise.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the preliminary plans to which he referred include the checking of addresses and the availability and the health of potential members?

Whether it is intended to go into all those details I cannot say, but I imagine that some of them will have to be dealt with.

Would it not appear from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that this is not a plan for the Home Guard at all? It is merely a plan for an officer in each command to advise, which presumably he is already doing, and unless the right hon. Gentleman will enrol men, either through the Government or voluntarily through the British Legion or in some other way, he will not get the men, because they will all be going to other jobs.

We think not. The fact is that the War Office, among other things, are proposing at once to work on the requirements of equipment and so on, and the command officer who is to be appointed in each of the home commands will be entrusted with the task of making the necessary plans.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the implication of what he has just said? Surely there is nothing more calculated to wreck the organisation of Civil Defence than the sudden exit of large numbers of men, should an emergency arise.

We think not. At any rate, first things come first. It is not intended—and we have given the matter very careful consideration—that the Home Guard should be raised before an emergency. On the other hand, we think that it is very desirable that the Civil Defence organisation should be in active preparation.

Food Supplies

Warehouse, Grimsby (Building Licence)

51.

asked the Minister of Food why he is not prepared to support the application for a licence for the completion of the work on the warehouse in Abbey Road, Grimsby, to Messrs. T. Wilkinson and Sons, Builders, Cleethorpes, when the whole steel work and about half the brick work have been completed for about three years, and is deteriorating owing to long exposure, and since all the roofing materials required are already on the site and are paid for and no other materials are required, and in view of the considerable unemployment in the district, if he will reverse his decision.

I am arranging for this case to be re-examined and will let the hon. Member know the result as soon as possible.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but will he explain why he has taken so long and why there has had to be so many Parliamentary Questions before we got this sensible decision?

Catering Establishments (Bacon)

52.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in the interests of increased food production, he will permit catering establishments which keep pigs fed on their own swill to retain the resulting bacon for their visitors.

As I explained in my reply to the hon. Member for Penrith (Mr. Scott) on 14th June, in deciding these matters I have to take into account the need to share our supplies of pork and bacon fairly over the whole population, and the interests of domestic consumers as well as catering establishments. At present I do not think that a change in the arrangements would be justified.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to reconsider this matter, because the concession for which we are asking would contribute to food production and would do harm to nobody?

These people have a concession now. They have extra bacon which other people do not have. At a time when the bacon ration has had to be reduced, I do not feel that I would be justified in removing all the limitations on the serving of bacon in catering establishments.

Rations (Statistics)

53.

asked the Minister of Food what percentages of the total rations to which the public is entitled are actually purchased by the public in the various foodstuffs, respectively, which are still subject to rationing.

Our estimates are: meat, tea and sugar, 100 per cent.; bacon and butter, 98 per cent.; chocolate and sugar confectionery, 96 per cent.; cheese, 93 per cent.; cooking fats, 88 per cent.; and margarine 86 per cent.

Ewe Mutton

54.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that in a number of instances butchers refused to accept ewe mutton due to its unsatisfactory quality; that they thereby had to forego the value of this ration meat and cut down the ration of their customers; and if he will stop issuing ewe mutton for distribution on the ration.

I know that some butchers have occasionally refused imported ewe mutton, but this has not affected consumers' rations, since, if a butcher is unable to meet his customers' rations out of his stock, we can always arrange for them to be supplied by other butchers. I explained to the hon. Member on 25th October that if a butcher is dissatisfied with the quality of his meat and his appeal to the district meat agent is upheld, a replacement will be made; but the present supplies do not enable us to remove ewe mutton from the ration.

Would the Minister give an assurance that any butchers who refuse this ewe mutton in the future will be able to get other rations for their customers?

Why are there more ewes about now than there were in the days of Tory misrule?

Condemned Bacon

55.

asked the Minister of Food how much imported bacon has been condemned as unfit for human consumption in the last 12 months; how much has been sent to the soap-makers; and principally from what countries did it come.

During the year ending 31st October we distributed about 266,000 tons of imported bacon of which 119 tons eight cwts., or 0.05 per cent. was condemned as unfit for human consumption. Most of this condemned bacon was used for industrial manufacture, but I cannot say how much was used for soap making, nor from what particular countries it came.

Is the Minister satisfied that, although the quantity which is condemned is small, no deterioration of the bacon is taking place in the warehouses?

One can never be satisfied, but I should have thought that the figures that I have given were quite reassuring.

Exhibits, Smithfield Show (Price)

56.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that beef exhibited in the carcass competitions at Smithfield Show are paid for at casualty rate resulting in a loss to exhibitors of 1d. per lb.; and whether he will give instructions that this prime beef should be paid for at the full rate.

The hon. Member's information is not quite in line with the facts. Last year cattle entered for the carcass competition were paid for on the basis of their dead weight—in other words the actual rather than the estimated carcass weight. This procedure, which is the only practicable one in the circumstances, will. I believe, be adopted again next year.

Would the Minister check his information and make sure that he is accurate, because the information which I have from Smithfield is, in fact, that these carcasses, judged the best in the world, are paid for at casualty rates?

As the hon. Gentleman knows—he has spoken to me about this and I have gone into it in great detail—I am satisfied that my information is correct.

57.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that under the present regulations beef produced from animals exhibited at the Smithfield Show are paid for on the basis of live weight grade and not on actual dead weight, resulting in a loss to exhibitors at the 1949 show of about 2,000 lb. weight of meat, and whether he will alter these regulations so as to permit payment for actual carcass weight.

These cattle are graded and paid for in exactly the same way as those we buy at collecting centres throughout the country. Our top grade includes all animals with an estimated killing-out percentage of 59 per cent. and over. If we fixed separate prices for any higher grade it would tend to encourage the production of over-fat animals not suitable for the retail trade and I am not prepared to alter the existing arrangements. After all, our main purpose must be, at this stage to improve the quality of meat for eating.

Is the Minister aware that the exhibitors at this show are not asking to be paid for fat? They are quite prepared to have the fat trimmed. All that they are asking for is that they should be paid for prime beef at the right price and not be robbed of 2,000 lb. weight of meat which the Ministry of Food take from them.

I am aware of that fact. My advice is that if we altered the grade we would be encouraging the production of animals for fat and not for meat.

Has not the object of the Smithfield Show always been to raise the quality, and has not it done so most successfully, long before we had any Minister of Food?

Cattle (Slaughtering Arrangements)

58.

asked the Minister of Food whether in view of the increasing numbers of cattle awaiting slaughter and the congestion that results, with its consequent suffering to the animals, he will arrange for more slaughter houses to be built without delay.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) on Monday, 6th November.

While not having access to that answer, as no doubt the Minister has—which is something to which I have drawn attention before—may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that there are now only 600 slaughterhouses compared with 16,000 before the war? Therefore, how can there not be congestion and consequent suffering? Will he remove some of the restrictions that he has imposed?

There were not 16,000 slaughterhouses before the war, but 12,000, and some of these backyard slaughterhouses just did not bear examination.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that a great deal of suffering is caused to animals by their having to travel long distances? Will he do his best to alleviate the situation?

Before my right hon. Friend gives permission for the building of any more slaughterhouses, will he take a look at some of the slaughterhouses that were used prior to and in the early part of the war?

60.

asked the Minister of Food if he has considered particulars which have been sent to him concerning cruelty to animals and waste due to slaughtering of beasts under Government control; and if he will restore the right to butchers to do their own slaughtering.

I am having inquiries made about the information which the hon. Member has sent to me and will write to him as soon as possible, but I cannot accept the implication in his Question. On future slaughterhouse policy, I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D Marshall) on 6th November.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, due to Government control of a specialised industry, the waste of money and good food is appalling? Is he also aware that a butcher told me last week that he was no longer a butcher but a "cutter-up" of meat for the Government, and that he would like to get his knife into the Minister of Food?

Groundnut Scheme

59.

asked the Minister of Food if he is yet in a position to make a statement on the future of the groundnut scheme.

I expect to receive the revised plan from the Corporation shortly, and, as soon as the Government have considered it, I will publish a White Paper.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a very long time has elapsed since he came into office and took this matter in hand? Is he further aware that the public, who are most anxious about this point, should be informed about the Government's policy in regard to the groundnut scheme at a very early date?

I do not think I have been backward in giving information about the situation. I promised that a White Paper would be ready at about the end of November. We shall probably be about two weeks late, but I do not think that is too bad.

Is it not a fact that the groundnut scheme has no future, although, unfortunately, it has a past?

Meat Grading (Appeals)

61.

asked the Minister of Food to whom a butcher may appeal concerning the grading and quality of the meat supplied to him.

Is the Minister aware that many butchers have told me it is no good appealing because there is such a delay in getting a further supply, and that there is a danger of victimisation?

Milk (Delivery Charge)

62.

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a detailed statement as to the extent to which the Control and Maximum Prices Order permits the addition of a reasonable delivery charge to the price of milk delivered in thinly-populated areas; and, in particular, whether such provision covers milk sold under the National Milk Scheme.

Yes, Sir. The position is as follows: The appropriate order says that no person may make an unreasonable charge in connection with the sale of milk. By implication, therefore, a reasonable charge may be made to cover exceptional costs incurred in the retail delivery of milk in thinly-populated areas, whether the milk is provided under the Welfare Foods Service or otherwise. The question of what constitutes a "reasonable charge" is one for interpretation by the courts.

Does that mean that the Minister is prepared to pay a higher charge for milk supplied under the National Milk Scheme in the rural areas?