Reinstatement In Civil Employment Bill
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."The Bill which I am about to commend to the House for its Second Reading is rather long and may appear complicated, but its purposes are fundamentally simple and will, I feel sure, be welcomed by Members in all parts of the House. Men called up for whole-time National Service have been granted rights of reinstatement in civil employment either under the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1944, or, more recently, under the National Service Act, 1948. The main object of this Bill is to ensure that members of the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces called out or recalled for whole-time service to the Forces should possess corresponding rights. The need for introducing this Bill arose from the recent events in Korea. The Admiralty have recalled a number of officers from the Emergency Lists of the Royal Navy and some men from the Royal Fleet Reserve, while the War Office have recalled some thousands from the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and the Royal Army Reserve. It is clearly desirable that these men should, when the time comes for them to return to civil life, possess rights of reinstatement in the employment from which they were called away. In the present unsettled state of world affairs, the possibility of further incidents of this kind, which might also necessitate the recall of reservists or the embodiment of members of the Auxiliary Forces by any or all of the three Services, cannot, unfortunately, be excluded. To save having to deal with each case which may arise piecemeal, the Bill is not restricted to men recalled in consequence of Korea. It has purposely been made of a general character and wide enough to cover all men and women, including "Z" reservists, who might be recalled or embodied in any other incident which may arise. The second main purpose of the Bill is for the benefit of National Service men who, before 1st October last, when all National Service men who had not already completed their period of whole-time National Service became liable to serve for an additional six months, had voluntarily agreed to extend their whole-time service by not more than six months. By so doing they lost the reinstatement rights which they would otherwise have had at the end of their whole-time service. It would clearly be unjust that these men, who agreed voluntarily to do what the situation demanded before this additional obligation was imposed on all National Service men, should lose these rights, and the Bill therefore proposes to restore them. I have also taken this opportunity of suggesting that two anomalies in the existing arrangement for reinstatement should be put right. The first is, I am advised, that National Service men who during their whole-time service are granted commissions and who serve as officers for the balance of their whole-time service lose their reinstatement rights. The extension of the period of whole-time National Service from 18 months to two years may be expected to lead to an increase in the number of National Service men granted commissions. This, therefore, makes it all the more necessary that they should have reinstatement rights. The second arises from the fact that arrangements have been made under which doctors and dentists liable to be called up for National Service are granted commissions to serve in their professional capacity in the medical or dental branches of the Services for as long as they would serve if called up for National Service in the ordinary way. As these men are not called up in pursuance of an enlistment notice issued under the National Service Acts they also at present have no reinstatement rights when they complete their service. The Bill proposes to confer them on this class of citizen. The other provisions of the Bill are consequential. Clause 4 makes provision similar to the corresponding provision in the Act of 1948 for linking together two periods of whole-time service separated by a short interval. Clause 5 adapts various sections of the National Service Act of 1948 to include the persons to whom the Bill relates. In particular, it extends to them the provisions of Section 50 of that Act which prohibits the dismissal of employees by reason of their liability for whole-time service in the Forces. Some of the reservists recalled in connection with Korea have already returned to civil life. There were, for example, inevitably a number of men who were found on recall to be medically unfit for service in the Far East. Most of these men have no doubt already gone back to their old jobs and any few who have not have probably obtained other employment without difficulty. However, to cover any cases of difficulty which may have arisen, Clause 7 (1) of the Bill provides that any of these men will, immediately after the Bill becomes law, have the right to apply to their former employer for reinstatement. This arrangement corresponds with what was done to meet a similar problem when the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act. 1944, was passed. If any men want advice on how to apply for reinstatement they will be able to obtain it at any local office of the Ministry. As regard the commissioned officers on whom reinstatement rights are being conferred for the first time by this Bill, if it were desired to cover all those whose service has ended in the past, it would be necessary to go back for at least three years. Most employers, however, have no doubt willingly taken these officers back and, in fact, no cases of difficulty have come to my notice. It is therefore proposed to confer these rights as from the passing of the Bill. Our experience is that there are relatively very few disputed cases in connection with reinstatement. Out of about five million people who were called up during and after the war, all of whom had reinstatement rights, I think that at the outside fewer than 1,000 cases had to have the highest legal intervention by the Umpire. Employers have, generally speaking, co-operated very well indeed in taking back men who have done their National Service. I have no doubt that they will co-operate in the same way for the men and women for whom we are now providing. Any few disputed cases which may arise under the Bill will be settled by the well-tried machinery which already operates in connection with the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1944, and the National Service Act, 1948. I refer to the reinstatement committees and to the Umpire and deputy umpires sitting with assessors. I think that I may say without fear of contradiction that this machinery has worked to the general satisfaction of everyone and quite smoothly. I should like at this point to express a tribute to the way in which the chairman and members of the committees as well as the Umpire and deputy umpires and their assessors have carried out their responsible duties. In submitting this Bill, I am happy to inform the House that my National Joint Advisory Council endorse the principal provisions, and as that Council very broadly and very completely represents the employing interests in this country, it is an indication of their desire and intention to assist in seeing it brought into full operation. I confidently recommend the Bill to the House which would, I am sure, wish to make certain that everything possible is done to safeguard the employment of the men who are fighting in Korea and of the men who may be called up on a future occasion to assume a similar burden. I have not felt it necessary to go into very great detail concerning the full terms of the Bill. It is necessarily rather complicated as it means reference back to several other Acts, but its principles and its proposals are very simple indeed, and I hope that the simplicity of the proposals will be sufficient justification for the simple statement which I have made in submitting the Bill to the House.
Some of my hon. Friends have been pressing for some time that reservists called up for service in Korea should have the protection of the machinery which was set out in the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act. Notably, I would make mention of the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), who last month, made specific reference to this matter and urged the Government to do something to provide this protection.Therefore we welcome this Bill, and we should do our best to facilitate its passage; indeed, the more so, because I think it is rather overdue. There are men, as the Minister has said, who are already coming out of the Forces, and who want this protection, and every day we delay, the longer we exclude others who should be brought in under this Bill. Therefore, I hope that now the Bill has been introduced, rather tardily, possibly, it will be pushed on with and made the law of the land as soon as possible. If I may venture on a personal note, I was privileged in February, 1944, to move the Second Reading of the original Bill. Looking over the debate at that time, I regret to see that I spoke at rather inordinate length in endeavouring to explain what was then a completely novel conception to the House. It was a very complicated, pioneering Bill. We sat in the Ministry for long hours considering how best to give some protection to people who had been in the Forces. We had valuable advice from employers, trade unions and private citizens, and we eventually brought in the Bill. At that time, the Bill had a rather lukewarm reception in the House, even from some of my hon. Friends. I remember one of my hon. Friends saying, "Will it work? I do not think so." Another said that it was practically unworkable. That only shows how unwise it is to prophesy in this House when HANSARD takes down what we say. The Bill worked quite admirably because, possibly, it did not appear to be logical, and that may have been the reason why, in this illogical land, it worked so well. I have not heard of more than two or three complaints from any sources of, for example, the decisions of the reinstatement committees, and I should like to join with the Minister most heartily in the well-deserved words of commendation which he has delivered on their work. The procedure was worked with good will by both the employers and the trade unions concerned. The whole crux of the Measure was whether it was "reasonable and practicable" for the employer to take back the applicant. The reinstatement committees, in cases of dispute, had to define what was "reasonable and practicable." I believe that a number of legal pundits said that this was impossible of definition. However, we got over these difficulties and the procedure has given satisfaction to all. I should like to emphasise that this Bill is not, nor was the original Act, a Measure to create jobs, but to ascertain who has the right to a job which is there. It defines the obligations of the employers in relation to the priority of any applicants for a job. I know that a great number of employers were grateful for the guidance the Act gave them on this difficult and rather complicated question, which might well mean the dismissal of a man who had been in the job since the Reservist was called up in order to reinstate him. We are not dealing here with another most pressing problem, which is to find jobs for Regulars when they come out of the Forces. We all wish to see our Regular Forces built up, but this problem is not being dealt with in the Bill. I say, in all seriousness to the Government, that this is a major problem which I hope they are giving attention to, and in regard to which I hope they will be coming to the House with proposals. This is a matter on which my hon. Friends feel very deeply. There is another small point I wish to mention. We made provision in the original Act that everyone on demobilisation or release should get information about his rights under reinstatement. I presume that this will be carried out in this case.
While we welcome the Bill, there are some points which will need looking into and some Amendments which, possibly, should be made in Committee. We shall examine the Bill in the friendliest possible way. The Minister made reference to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum and the extraordinary state of affairs that it was only recently discovered that, legally, any National Service man who had the good fortune to become a commissioned officer through his prowess and hard work thereby lost his reinstatement rights. It seems to me that someone must have slipped up rather badly in drafting the 1948 Measure. I am glad that no cases have arisen in the interval, although hardship might have been caused. It is an omission which everyone will regret, but which I am glad we are now putting right.I do not quite understand what is meant by subsection (1, b) at the bottom of page 1. It is rather complicated, but it apparently excludes protection to commissioned officers who are members of any Reserve that involves periodical training. Surely it excludes all officers other than National Service officers and Class Z Reserve officers? For example, there is no protection specifically made for volunteer Territorial officers who, by going to their fortnight's camp, might lose their jobs. Although it is rather unlikely that they would lose their jobs, it is unfortunate that these people should be expressly excluded by these few words. I may be wrong in my interpretation, but I ask the Minister to give the matter his attention, and to make an Amendment if that be necessary. It is important that everyone who does voluntary training at prescribed times as part of his military duties should get protection. The 1948 Measure laid down, quite rightly, the period during which a man had a right to apply for reinstatement. The period was cut down because National Service men knew some weeks or months ahead when they were coming out of the Forces, and they could therefore make the necessary arrangements. It was highly desirable that men should apply as early as possible. But under this Bill we are bringing in a new class of reservists who have been called up for Korea and elsewhere, and they are not likely to know with any degree of accuracy when they will be released. I suggest that t would be desirable, in the case of men who do not know when their release is likely to be, that they should be given a longer period. Another point that has been put to me, with which some of my hon. Friends will be dealing in more detail, is the position in regard to superannuation rights and the payments made to bring Service pay up to civilian pay. I understand that the Treasury are making up the pay of the reservists recalled for service in Korea. The local authorities, on the other hand, have no such rights. Their rights lapsed, and I understand that they are pressing for the right to decide for themselves whether or not to make up the pay of any reservist called up for Korea or to maintain superannuation. I do not know whether this matter is covered by the Bill, or whether it would require some Treasury regulation. None the less, it ties up with the same subject. Finally, there is the position of the man who was in a service cottage as a necessary part of his employment. I am not going into the political arguments of whether service cottages are a good or a bad thing in the case of nationalised or private industries, but the fact remains that a man may not be able to return to his job unless the service cottage is made available to him. I do not think this question arose during the war, when people were away for a long time, but it is a problem that is arising among many of these reservists. Perhaps we might have some clarification of that position. If a man had a service cottage before he was called up, his reinstatement rights should include the service cottage being available to him when he comes back. My hon. Friends and I are only too pleased that the Minister has brought in this Bill, and we urge him to pass it into law as quickly as possible.
I also wish to raise the position of a reservist occupying a tied cottage who is called up for Korea. I had a very urgent message from one of my constituents who received only seven days' notice to rejoin the Forces at Colchester, knowing full well that it meant going to Korea. As soon as his employer heard of it, he told the man that it would not matter if he was to be away for only one month, but that if lie was to be away for some months, he would certainly require the cottage that was occupied by the man's wife and family for another worker to do his job. If we are to protect the employment of a man while he is in the Forces, have we not also an obligation to give protection to his wife and family while he is serving in the Forces?In this case, there was a wife and four small children occupying the house by virtue of the man's employment. If the wife and family have to evacuate the house in favour of another man and his family, are we, in fact, safeguarding this man's employment? It will be very difficult to get the other worker out of the cottage under any existing legislation, and, therefore, the guarantee of reinstatement may be quite worthless. The wives and families of men in a similar position to my constituent should also be fully safeguarded while the husband is in the Forces. There may not be many cases of this character. I have had one brought to my attention, and I should not be surprised if others will crop up, because the system of the tied cottage applies not only to agriculture, but to other industries. Men who have spent seven years in the Regular Forces and five years in the Reserve can be employed in agriculture and other industries where there are tied cottages. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider safeguarding the position of the wife and family for so long as the husband is serving in the Forces. I do not think this will be a big problem from the legal point of view. It ought not to be very difficult from the housing point of view. If there are not many of these cases, some form of prefabricated house could quickly be erected, or the local authority could be instructed to make provision in their housing programme for the wives and families of men serving the world in Korea. The Government ought to indicate the protection they are prepared to give to these families, so that these men who are doing their duty on the other side of the world need have no anxieties about the housing accommodation of their wives and families.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) has said, a great deal depended under the 1948 Act on the definition of what was "reasonable and practicable." There are a great many definitions of these words, hut it depends in industry very much on the human relations of the people concerned. One important matter that arises under this Bill, which has not been considered before, is how the pension rights of a man coming back into industry will be affected after he has been away for some two, three, or four years.This situation did not arise with National Service men, because the vast majority were young men who had not come under any pension arrangements in industry. I believe that good employers—and I am fortunate enough to work for a good employer—will see that when their employees are reinstated, they do not lose their pension rights. This question is becoming very important under present world conditions with the high cost of living. It is certainly very difficult in these days to save money. The question of pensions in industry is becoming more and more important, and this may mean very real hardship to many thousands of workers. I have an interest in many pension schemes. From the practical point of view, where the insurance industry provides the great majority of these schemes, there is no doubt that the employer concerned can make the mechanics of the scheme fit into the circumstances, and men can be brought back into a scheme in a number of different ways. At the same time, while I urge that it be done and should like to see it done, I am convinced that it is quite impossible for the Minister to draw up a law to enforce it, because there may be 5,000 companies who probably have 5,000 different pension schemes. It can only be done by encouragement—by the Minister saying "This ought to be done," and encouraging industry to act upon it. There is one exception which I should like to put, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be in a position to answer it. The Government themselves are by far the biggest employers in the country, and throughout many sections of the nationalised industries, particularly gas and electricity, there are men who have pension rights which have been carried on by the nationalised undertakings from the private companies, whom they succeeded and for whom the men worked. Could the Parliamentary Secretary give us an assurance that the Government will see that these men's pension rights are not sacrificed or that they do not lose a substantial measure of pension through serving their country? That is something in the Government's control that can be done without any major legislation or alteration of policy.
Why does the hon. Gentleman say without legislation?
Because we are always told in this House that the domestic affairs of the nationalised industries are not our concern, but are for the industries themselves. Some of these industries have pension plans and it does not require legislation by this House for them to be introduced. It is purely a decision for the directors of the nationalised industries I presume that those directors pay a good deal of attention to what they are told by the Minister. I am satisfied that this is something that the Government can do, and that unless they do it they cannot expect the rest of industry to do It. It is a case where they can set a good example as a model employer.I repeat to the Minister that from the insurance point of view, the mechanics are quite simple. Many firms make up the whole of a man's pay the time he is away, and in that way it is perfectly easy to make the usual deductions for pension, and to carry on the pension rates in the same way as if the person concerned had not left the factory. If that is not practical, there is a thing called a Past Service Fund. That is well known to insurance companies, and is the kind of thing that can be done. In view of the importance of pensions to many millions of our workers, I would ask the Minister to keep what I have said in mind. Today workers cannot possibly save enough money to set aside for their retirement, and their pensions, therefore, are something of increasing importance. Here is something which I believe the Government can do by giving a lead in the nationalised industries and by declaring their view to industry, which would be a great benefit to everyone concerned in this Bill.
Towards the end of his speech the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) mentioned the tied cottage, the question of which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). That is a point upon which I should also like to touch. In the old days the tied cottage was largely associated with private industry, but today, when we have a large number of nationalised industries, we find that the problem of tied cottages is of importance to them, and particularly is that so in the railway industry. In Crewe in my constituency, there are a large number of houses which are owned by the nationalised railways, and in the past under the private company many men were evicted from those houses in order to make way for new employees.This is a very difficult problem and those in charge of the railways today have to consider it very carefully. A number of occupants of railway tied cottages in my constituency have been given notices to quit. I am glad to say that under the new régime none of them has been carried out yet, and I hope, as I said before in this House, that no one will be turned out in those circumstances. There arises the possibility of reservists being turned out. I should like the Minister to consider the suggestion which came from the benches opposite, and also from some of my hon. Friends, to make sure that no one loses his railway tied cottage, or, for that matter, any other tied cottage, by reason of the fact that he is called up to serve His Majesty in the Forces.
With regard to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen), I should like to tell him that I have just been able to save a constituent from being evicted from a tied cottage owned by a nationalised industry by acting very strongly in the matter, so that they are not as soft-hearted as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, and upon which he thought they should be congratulated.I have watched for this Bill ever since I heard the announcement that His Majesty's Government were calling back the reservists into the Forces. I thought it was a pity that they were not able to announce at the same time as they announced their intention to call back the reservists that some such Bill would be introduced. The Minister of Labour will, no doubt, agree with me that had that been done it might have saved a certain amount of anxiety. However, we have now got the Bill. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) remind the House that we must see on the Committee Stage that the Bill covers all the persons whom we wish to cover by such a provision. I am amazed, as we sat through long nights on the National Service Bill in 1947, that there was not included in that Bill a protection for the man who got his commission during his National Service. That was a remarkable case of misdrafting by someone. I hope there are no other loopholes or defects in the original Act. It seems to me that this Bill may possibly omit one or two classes of people whom the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would not wish to omit. Does it, for example, cover the case of those short-term volunteers who were asked to volunteer specially for service in Korea? There were not very many of them, but they were asked to volunteer only for a very short time, and it appears to me that they are not covered by this Bill. Secondly, do the provisions of this Bill or of the original Act cover the National Service man who has been longer than two years in service on his own personal undertaking? If my memory serves me right, there is a scheme in the Royal Air Force under which a National Service man after a period of three years is allowed to forego a year of his part-time service. If it is necessary we should enact a new Clause in this Bill to cover such a case. At any rate, I have made the point, and perhaps the Government will give us an answer during this Debate. If there is a loophole we can deal with it in Committee. One of the great advantages of having a Bill like this, is that it tends to reduce the great uncertainty which must afflict those called back to the Forces—I am thinking of the reservists—and their families. We have an example of the difficulty in the tied cottage. I believe there is another side to this of which we might hear on some more suitable occasion, but there is the general uncertainty for the period during which the man is serving. It affects everybody; it affects the employer who is covered by the Bill and the employer who has to provide a tenancy for the man and his family; and it affects the family themselves. They have their plans to make. It should also be noted that it concerns things like pensions and superannuation rights, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), has just referred. It must, of course, be very difficult for the Service authorities to say what is the period, but I am wondering if it would not help in a Bill of this sort to carry the spirit of the Bill further and give some indication as to what will be the maximum period in the present circumstances for which these men have been called up and have had their civilian life interrupted. My last point was referred to by my right hon. Friend. We are all concerned with making the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy into a life career in some way or another. The ability of a man to find employment after his service must, of course, be affected by the fact that the employer has obligations under this Bill during the time when the employees are on the Reserve. It is also affected by the fact that a man spends his active life in Service conditions which might not be wholly suitable for the type of civilian employment he seeks. I hope we are going to hear from the Government how they will fill the gap which still exists in regard to a career after Service life. This Bill, as all my hon. Friends have said, is very welcome, and I hope to play an important part on the Committee stage in seeing that it fulfils the purpose which we all have in mind.
I wish to comment upon two or three aspects of the Bill. Some of us had experience of the operation of the Reinstatement Act of 1944, but there is one point which has not yet been mentioned in the Debate and that is the type of case which occurred in the mining industry. The workman there had normally a free house. In other cases he received allowances in kind for rent and coal. When he was called to the Services his wife and family were safeguarded. There was not the anxiety which has been suggested. The wife and family continued to receive the allowances in kind which had been paid to her husband while he was working at the colliery.The case which sometimes created difficulty in the industry was of the person who claimed a particular job which he was doing when he entered the Forces. Miners employed underground were not called to the Forces. Those who were called were from the surface. Some of them were young chaps of 19 years of age who were away for four or five years. When they came back, they insisted upon their claim to the particular job they were doing when they left and not to the job which they would have been doing as a result of the normal up-grading process in the industry. A decision was given in law in favour of their claim to their previous job for at least 12 months after they re-entered the industry. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the need for something more specific in the Bill to secure that persons affected by it have a claim to jobs which they would have been doing as a result of the upgrading system. If they had been away from the industry for four or five years some training would be necessary. This is an aspect of the Bill to which I hope the Minister will give attention before we discuss it in Committee.
In giving general support to the Bill I would draw attention to some small points. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), has already touched upon one point which merits attention. In the Royal Air Force there are a thousand men who have volunteered for an extra period of service, mostly of a technical nature, and usually for 18 months beyond the period of National Service. It would appear that those men are not covered by the Bill. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would look at that point before we come to the Committee stage.My second point relates to men returning from service, and their position on the housing lists of local councils. I quite appreciate that we cannot legislate for them in the Bill, but perhaps when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the Debate he would agree to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to give guidance to local authorities to see that people who are drawn away to do National Service for a long period do not suffer by losing their position in the queue for council houses. Discrimination has been shown in the past by some councils, and applicants have been taken right off the waiting lists on joining the Services. On returning from the Services those applicants had to wait for a period before they could get back to the housing list. I know that provisions to cover these cases cannot be put into the Bill, but it is vitally important that men should not only be reinstated in employment but should not suffer additional housing difficulties in any way by duty in the Services.
I want to reinforce the other side of the picture which has just been presented by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), who spoke of the National Service man serving for an extended period. I would call attention to the person who, for one reason or another, comes out of the Service before his proper time. Such short-time service might deprive him of the protection of the Bill and I ask the Minister to look at the matter from that angle.We recognise the serious urgency of this Measure, not only because of the situation in Korea but after our experience this afternoon. We ought to recognise that the Bill might be doubly urgent when we remember the scene that we witnessed in this Chamber. It appears to me that there are forces about that are prepared to disturb even further the tension that exists in the world. Because of that scene this afternoon, the Bill seems doubly urgent.
I welcome anything which will make things easier for the men who are serving. No doubt many of them suffer great hardships. I would draw the attention of the Minister to another category not covered by the Bill, Regulars who have come to the end of their service of 12 years, or whatever it may be, and now find that they are held for an indefinite period. I met a man the other day who was actually on his release leave when the emergency occurred. He was going to a new job in a few days when he was called back into the Forces. He does not know how long he has to stay there or whether the job will be open to him when he comes out. All good employers would treat such cases favourably and on their merits, and I am wondering whether they can be brought within the scope of the Bill.
I should like the Bill to state when men are likely to get out of the Services. Reinstatement in civil life affects both employer and employee. The employer has to keep a job open for three or four years although the man may have only been learning it when he left, and later may have to learn it all over again. The man, when he comes out, has not the skill that he had when he went in. The men are not necessarily being employed in their own trades. When they join the Infantry, they become ordinary fighting soldiers. There is great concern in the Services as to when these men will be coming out. I know that the Government have difficulty in this matter, and that in the present state of the world it is difficult to say that men will not be moved from Korea to Malaya or to any other place where Communist trouble may begin.Only a very small proportion of reservists are being called up, but there is a considerable number of men who have equal responsibilities who are escaping the liability for call-up. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree that if we are to have fair shares for all, we ought to say that subject to there being no major war, for instance, the service of the men who are called up should be limited to, say, two or three years or to some other fixed time, when other reservists would be called up to take their place. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) referred to men who were leaving the Services to take up civilian employment. I have had any number of these cases, from naval men rather than from soldiers. They have no occupation to which they can point and say, "I have been following this job." They may have been promised employment but they have not been in it previously because of the length of their Regular service. These men, who are now leaving the Forces and entering civil life for the first time, are not protected by the Bill. I had a case recently of a man who had got married and had bought some furniture, and was expecting his release on 1st September. He neither got his gratuity to pay for the furniture, nor did he leave the Service and join his civilian job. After representations to the Secretary of State for War it was agreed that the gratuity should be paid. I am now pressing and hoping that additional gratuities will be paid to the men who have to serve an additional year or two in the Forces. I wish that a representative of the Admiralty had been present to hear of similar things which are happening in the Navy. In July and August, sailors were invited to re-engage. After the patriotic ones had rejoined to continue in the Service, an order was published saying that any man who joined after 1st September would get an additional £100 gratuity. But the Navy then refused to make this payment to those who would have been leaving the Service in September and had had the patriotism to join up earlier. That is extremely unfair treatment and I hope that it is being looked into. I have nothing more to say except that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) and I are extremely pleased that the Bill has been introduced.
I, like other hon. Members, am very grateful for the introduction of the Bill by my right hon. Friend. Many of us who have been members of local authorities can well remember the dissatisfaction which was shown, even during the war, when many of our employees were in the privileged position of being given security by legislation then in force. I consider that we have a moral obligation to the young men who have been called up to the Armed Forces, not only in respect of their normal Service period, but also in regard to any extension which they may be required to serve.In listening to this Debate I have been wondering—and I put this suggestion equally to hon. Members opposite who have been Members of the Forces—whether it would be possible to devise a similar scheme for the protection of men who engage for long periods of, say, 10 or more years in the Forces, and whether after such a long period of service it would be possible to safeguard their interests in returning to civil employment. I was rather sorry to hear it said this afternoon that there had been neglect in the consideration of applications by men in the Forces for council house accommodation. I think that something ought to be done to ensure that assistance is given in this direction. From my own experience, I can say that when cases of this kind came before my local authority we endeavoured to keep them under consideration at all times; these men have a right to receive every consideration. I welcome the Bill also for the satisfaction it will give to the young men who are serving in the Forces.
While I share a good many of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater), I do not propose to follow his arguments very closely, because while they relate to matters of the very greatest importance, they are, as I think he will realise, matters with which the Bill does not even attempt to deal, and the Bill is, as he would appreciate, limited in extent and deals with important but different matters.The course of the debate has made it abundantly clear that hon. Members on all sides regard it as highly appropriate that at a time when His Majesty's Forces are engaged in fearful climatic conditions in a struggle in Korea, the House should be concerning itself in an attempt at least to mitigate the ill-effects of that service upon their civilian prospects and careers. For that reason, as the Minister will have appreciated, the principle behind his proposals seems to have been accepted in all quarters of the House. Many hon. Members know from experience that when men are serving in the Forces anxieties as to their future inevitably loom very large in their minds; and perhaps the further they are isolated geographically from this country, the larger those considerations loom. It must be an even more powerful factor in the minds of those who at a time like this are conscious of the fact that they are a very small numerical minority of His Majesty's subjects and that while they are engaged in work of the very greatest national importance the majority of their compatriots are still engaged in their normal civilian avocations. That makes the introduction of the Bill at this particular moment doubly appropriate. I was lost in admiration for the right hon. Gentleman when he said that this was a simple subject. It may be simple to the right hon. Gentleman, but, to me, many complex and difficult issues inevitably and inescapably arise in any attempt to deal with this problem. Indeed, if example were needed, the very fact that in the 1948 Act—I am sure. Inadvertently—omission was made to deal at all with the case of National Service officers, shows how many difficult practical problems always arise when one tries to cope with this subject. The present Bill must inevitably raise more complex problems because it deals in a considerable degree with a different subject matter to the 1948 Act. For this reason, the 1948 Act dealt almost exclusively with young men called up under the National Service Acts. The Bill, while it deals of course with them, deals also additionally with a quite different category of men: the reservists who are recalled to the Forces. Those reservists tend to be men of some age, generally men with family responsibilities, some of them holding substantial positions in civil life. When we have to deal with their problems in a Bill of this kind, the problem unavoidably becomes different in kind, and different, perhaps, also in degree to what it was when we were dealing almost exclusively with younger age groups. If I may illustrate the differences that seem to arise both from that fact and from the fact that in part of the Bill at any rate we are dealing with people who. unlike those called up under the 1948 Act, do not know the date on which they are to be released, I will, if I may, fortify the argument by example, and press a little further a point which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale). Under the 1948 Act, quite properly, a very limited period was given for making the application to exercise reinstatement rights. Under Section 36 (2) of that Act, the application had to be made
That is to say, a period of at the most 14 days. That is, no doubt, reasonable when one is dealing with men who from the beginning of their service know precisely the date on which they will be released. Indeed, they have all the advantage of being dealt with in batches who are, no doubt, informed through the ordinary Service channels of their rights. It is a very different matter, however, when dealing with reservists who have not, as some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, the faintest idea of when they will be released. That point is made the stronger when one compares the provisions of the 1948 Act, which I have quoted and which is incorporated in the Bill, with the provisions of Section 2 (2) of the original Act of 1944. Under the 1944 Act, the application had to be made at any time up to the fifth Monday from the end of the period of whole-time service, allowing, that is to say, between 28 and 35 days. It seems to me that that period, which then of course related to people whose date of release was unknown, is the more appropriate when we are once again dealing with people who do not know what their date of release will be. I hope that when we come to a later stage of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman will not shut his mind to an Amendment, because it would be very wrong and contrary to what are, I am sure, the general wishes of the House that any man should lose the rights which in the Bill we seek to confer upon him, solely because he did not take action within the very limited period prescribed under the present Measure. Another aspect of the greater complications when dealing with these older men has arisen and has been dealt with in speeches from the other side of the House. I refer to the question, which is inevitably posed, that in certain localities it is quite valueless and useless to say to a man that he shall have his job back unless it is made sure that he has somewhere to live in order to do that job. Circumstances vary widely, but there are a number of jobs, both in agriculture, as the hon. Member for Norfolk. South-West (Mr. Dye), pointed out, on the railways, as the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) pointed out, and in certain other industrial activities where, if a man cannot live quite close to his work, he cannot do that work. I appreciate that there is here a difficult series of problems. There is the problem posed, I think, by the hon. and learned Member for Crewe, of what is to happen during military service to a man's wife and family who occupy accommodation connected with his employment. This is a very difficult problem, because, while no-one would regard it as right for the wife and family of a Service man to be evicted because of his service in the Forces, yet there are examples, such as, for instance, a signalman's cottage in an isolated country district on the railway, where if someone has to do that essential job he has to live in those particular premises. It would be difficult to put into an Act of Parliament any right to occupy service premises during the absence of the man for whose work they were provided."during the period beginning with the end of the applicant's whole-time service and ending with the second Monday after the end thereof."
Taking the case of the railways, if a man is engaged as a signalman he is not engaged for a certain signalman's post but can be transferred anywhere on the railways. That is quite different from the case of a man living on a farm where the cottage may be the only one on the farm.
I am afraid—I sure that it is my fault—that the hon. Member has failed to grasp the point I was seeking to make. He is on another perfectly good point. My point concerns the isolated signalman's cottage in the countryside—
Or level crossing.
That is a very much better example. It is the only place in which the man who has to do the job can live. That is the kind of difficulty. We cannot say that through the absence of one man on National Service a signalman's box or crossing shall be unmanned. On the other hand, it should be possible to make quite sure in such cases that where a man is given by the Bill the right to resume his work he should be given at the same time the right to the accommodation from which he alone can do this work. I appreciate the difficulties, but they only go to show that these matters are not quite as simple as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate that he thought they were.There are problems of very real difficulty. Another problem posed from the other side of the House concerned the possibility of giving some sort of preference on housing lists to men coming home from the Forces and seeking to exercise their rights under the Bill. There is another matter which concerns the very limited number of young men who responded to the appeal made a little time ago to serve for 18 months or the duration of the Korean war, whichever period was the shorter. I find it difficult to understand why this was not dealt with in the Bill. I do not believe the numbers are very large—the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt have the figures—but it seems in principle quite wrong that these very patriotic citizens who, without any obligation imposed upon them by the House, volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces in these circumstances should not have the same rights as the Bill confers upon other men who are serving with them. It may be that in my reading of this complex Bill I failed to understand the part which gives them these rights, and if the Parliamentary Secretary can say that those rights are there and can point to the Clause which gives them I shall be completely satisfied. If my reading of the Bill is right and these men are not covered, it would seem appropriate and proper to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider on the Committee stage incorporating some cover for them. There are also such issues as superannuation and balance of pay and so on. Some of these issues require legislation. I understand that local authority pension schemes, which are regulated by statute, cannot be adjusted in favour of men called up for the Korean war or other forms of National Service unless there is legislation. If an attempt were made to do so without legislation, those who made the attempt could be surcharged by the district auditor. I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman has considered the desirability, particularly in respect once again of the older men who are very much concerned with the Bill, of making sure that when they get their jobs back they also get back with the jobs their full superannuation and pension rights. That is a most important issue, as is the co-related and inter-related issue of the right of their employers, particularly in the case of local authorities, to make up their pay. There is also the question—with which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to deal—of the interpretation of Clause 1 (b) so far as it affects the right of officers who go to Territorial camps to have their position protected against dismissal by their employers by reason of that liability. This is a complex subject. The views of some of my hon. Friends on the Clause may be due to a failure to know exactly what it means. It would certainly appear that such people are excluded, and if they are excluded their exclusion seems at least to warrant some inquiry into the reasons for it. Most of the matters which have arisen are undoubtedly matters which will have to be thrashed out in Committee. I want to make one general proposition relating in particular to the way in which I hope the House and the Minister will approach the Committee stage. When we are dealing, as we are now, with a comparatively limited number of people who in Korea are fighting not only for the freedom of that country but also for the rule of law throughout the world, if we are to err, let us err on the side of generosity. If there is any doubt or difficulty in the drafting or construction of the Bill, let us in those circumstances over-insure in their favour. Let us make quite clear and quite certain that no such omission as that from the 1948 Act relating to officers occurs with this Bill which is brought forward in these circumstances of particular national emergency. Even in action, soldiers are often very deeply concerned about their future and the future of their families, and I believe that, human and humane considerations apart, we shall very well serve the cause of the United Nations in Korea by making it abundantly clear that this House will insist on the most generous treatment possible in this respect, and, I hope, in others, being given to those members of His Majesty's Forces who are engaged at this moment in a grim and deadly struggle.
I have been in touch with the Admiralty about the case of a man who agreed to serve for a further two years but was not allowed to leave the Service at the time he expected he would do so. He obtained a fairly reasonable post to fill when he left, but because of his retention he has lost the job. He wants to have some indication of the date when he will be released so that he can try for another job. It does not seem that the Bill would cover his case because he has not got a post in which to be reinstated. Is it possible to protect people in such a case? I support the suggestion that in cases where hardship has been done to men by reason of their retention in the Services beyond the date when they would normally have been expected to be released, they should be given a gratuity or something of that nature for their additional service.Can anything be done to meet the case of men on housing lists who are retained in the Services? When a man is recalled to the Services his remuneration is often considerably less than it was in his civil employment. When allocating houses many local authorities have regard to the employment and remuneration of the applicant, and the man's civil employment might warrant his being offered a larger or better built house, in view of his apparent ability to meet the obligations in that case, than would his remuneration while in the Services. I know of the case of a company sergeant major with 18 years' service who had employment to go to and wished to leave the Service, but was retained. Not only did he hope to be able to take up that employment but he is also waiting for a corporation house. Can something be done so that a man who is detained in the Service because of an emergency does not lose his entitlement to be considered for a house? It is true that many local authorities give ex-Service men consideration based on the length of their service in their points schemes, but if the man is serving abroad it is not certain that he will get the consideration to which he is entitled.
We have had a most interesting Debate which has ranged over a vast field from tied cottages to pension rights. I do not complain in the least about that because, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, this is a most complicated issue. The more one gives one's mind to the subject, the wider the problems seem to become.The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) pointed out that he played a major part in introducing the 1944 Act, and we know of his great service in that respect. But I disagreed with him when he implied that the Bill was something of a pioneering venture. My reading of history leaves me with the impression that Oliver Cromwell used the persuasive argument to the people whom he wished to get into his forces that if they would serve with him and stay with him, he would do everything in his power to ensure that employers reinstated them in their jobs at the end of hostilities. Therefore, I doubt whether any of us in the House can claim to be pioneers in the complicated matter of reinstatement in civil employment. The right hon. Gentleman put certain points to which I will try to reply. He will realise better than I do that a number of the issues which he raised. such as superannuation and such matters—I know how important they are, and, naturally, we all have them in mind—could not be included in a Bill of such a restricted type.
I agree with the Minister in that respect and I hope he will draw the attention of his colleagues to the points raised this afternoon.
I trust that the combined volume of the voices of the right hon. Gentlemen and myself in that great humanitarian effort will not be lost upon my colleagues in the Government.Several hon. Members mentioned the complicated question of the tied cottage. For instance, there was the point whether the wife and family can be guaranteed continued occupation of a cottage while the reservist is away. We should not like to see anything in this Bill which would preclude a man from obtaining re-instatement because an employer, either as a pretext or as a practical issue, felt he could not re-instate that man in the cottage which he had occupied previously. If we were to give such a guarantee now, it would presuppose that we would have to give somebody the power of ejecting the present tenants of such cottages. I do not believe that we can solve these problems by legislation. They come rather within the scope of those words so often used in this Debate, what is reasonable and practicable. Had there been many concrete instances of this sort of thing happening, I believe we would have had notice under the working of the previous Acts. So far as we are aware in the Ministry, however, issues of this type have not been raised in the re-instatement committees. So while it is an important matter, and one which we must keep in focus, in practice I do not think it has worked out that way.
Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that nobody has the right to turn out the wife of a Service man occupying a tied cottage in the course of his service? If nobody has that right, obviously she is secure, but if the man who was previously employed has the right to eject her, then something ought to be done for the wife and family of the Service man.
My hon. Friend must have misunderstood what I said. I said that if we legislated now to give rights to a person who wants to be re-instated to take over again a cottage which he had occupied previously, it would pre- suppose that we should give somebody the power to eject those who had gone into that cottage during the period he was in the Forces. The right hon. Gentleman asked us to push on with this Bill because of those who are now coming out of the Forces. That is a most important point. There are probably a number of people who have been released from the Forces and who may well be awaiting the passage of this Bill into law, and the sooner we get it on the Statute Book the better.A number of hon. Members asked questions concerning the reinstatement rights of people who had volunteered for short period engagements—18 months, "K for Korea" and so on. We considered this position but found, on balance, that we could hardly include in this Bill this and other types of short-term engagements which were not fundamentally different from other short-term engagements. Men who volunteered for them were warned that they would have no reinstatement rights. So far as I know, employers have never been under an obligation to reinstate men who enlist on Regular or short-term Service engagements, and it would be impossible to draw a hard and fast line between these men and those in the Regular Forces. In practice, however, I am certain that in most cases the employers of these men want them back if the men choose to come. The conferment of reinstatement rights on the National Service men who volunteer for an extra six months is exceptional, and is justified only because they would lose reinstatement rights which they would otherwise possess, whereas the men who have been compelled to do an extra six months keep those rights.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of these volunteers, has he available the numbers involved?
No. I am afraid not, but when there are numbers involved in matters of this kind, we get representations at the Ministry, and we have not had representations made to us on account of these people in that respect. However, I will make specific inquiries and will give the hon. Gentleman any information I can gather in the Department. So far as I know at the moment, there have been no cases.
I am much obliged.
The right hon. Member for Epsom referred to matters arising from Clause 1 (b). His point was that officers and other ranks called up for periodic service—that is, members of the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces—should be given reinstatement rights and protected from dismissal on acount of any liability for annual training. We regard this as unnecessary for two main reasons. First, it is highly probable that contracts entered into freely between employers and employees would be held not to be frustrated by the short periods of training, lasting as they do in the main for not more than a fortnight. Secondly employers of reservists and members of the Auxiliary Forces know about the training liabilities of these men and are in general ready enough to make it easy for them to attend. To put specific obligations on employers in respect of these men might have the boomerang effect of reducing their employment prospects.Much can be done, and is done, by the public spirit and goodwill to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. He pointed out that when he introduced the previous Bill there were many comments about the illogicality of the whole thing. I know it could be argued logically that many anomalies can arise, but, taking the experience of previous Acts, the main principle upon which we must rely in administering this Measure is good sense and willingness to work it. In any event, this question is outside the main purpose of the Bill, which is to safeguard the employment of men recalled for an indefinite period of service, as distinct from a short period of pre-arranged training. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames also made the point that the people concerned in this Bill will not have long advance notice of the date of their release from the Forces. I agree that there is a certain point in this. I realise that it is not possible in existing circumstances and, indeed, in the circumstances which we may be going into—and goodness knows what they may be—to give the same type of guarantee as was given in the previous Bill. Therefore, agreeing as I do that there is something in this point, I will undertake to consider this question before the Committee stage.
That is the notice of application?
Yes, that is what I mean, that we will have a further look at it before the Committee stage and see if there is anything we can do. But in the uncertainty of the future we could not possibly tie ourselves down to some sort of notification of release or anything of that kind.A number of hon. Members spoke on the question of the tied cottage. I have endeavoured to give our point of view about that, and I do not think that I can add to what I have said. I believe it is quite impracticable in legislation to cater for these contingencies. I do not think we can enforce anything on the basis of asking other people to leave a cottage they are occupying because an ex-Service man has returned.
I should not like the hon. Gentleman to make a categorical statement of that sort. I believe by reference to the 1944 Act, the reinstatement committee would probably rule that the man who had the job intermediately would have to be dismissed to make way for the original applicant, and I should not like a contrary statement to go out without further consideration.
That may be, but the point I was making is that I do not think it would be in the interest of the men concerned to try to legislate in a hard and fast manner for any such contingency. I believe the committees themselves are far more competent to judge each particular case of that type, and therefore I hope we shall not be pressed further on that matter.On the question of re-housing by local authorities, we are again on a matter which is outside the scope and limit of this Bill. Local authorities with which I am in some measure acquainted have systems, not only of registration in the first place but of re-registration over a limited period of time; and many of them take into consideration the services given by people who re-engage in the Armed Forces. In fact, they give points for that sort of thing. So long as there is not a general application of a specific system throughout the country, I do not think it possible for us to legislate for that type of case. I agree at once with the hon. Gentleman that it would indeed be detrimental, not only to the very natural desire of the people who are called to the Forces, but also to the whole recruitment scheme, if people who were called to the Services were to be victimised, as it were, by being put further and further back in the housing lists. I believe that the vast majority of housing authorities take that into consideration when operating their points system for houses.
Would the hon. Member assure me that he will talk that over with the Minister of Health to see whether some guidance cannot be given so that they shall not lose way in these lists?
Yes, Sir, I will see that we bring it to the notice of the Ministry of Health. I accept at once that it is a humane point which should not be lost sight of.I hope I have covered most of the points raised this afternoon. I know that matters of pension rights have been raised by the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) but I do not think we can possibly include that type of thing within the confines of this Bill. I suggest that in most circumstances pension rights depend on the terms of contract between employer and employee; certainly it is quite impossible for the Government to compel employers to alter the basis of those pension rights because of a Bill of this type. I agree again that it is a most desirable thing, but I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that within the confines of the Bill in which we are granting reinstatement rights to people who it is, or may be, necessary to bring back into the Forces because of an emergency, it is quite impossible to deal with matters of pension rights.
The Parliamentary Secretary gave an assurance to my hon. Friend on the question of housing. May I ask him for a similar assurance that the Ministers in charge of nationalised industries should have this brought to their attention?
On the question of nationalised industries, I thought that the hon. Member answered himself. He first suggested that the Government had control of these industries so far as the terms of employment, pension rights and so on were concerned. He went on to point out that in fact the boards were the people who would make those terms of employment. I do not think the Government would be acting in the spirit with which this House regards the general conduct of the nationalised industries if they attempted to impose terms or conditions of employment of that type.I should like to see pension rights preserved whether in the case of nationalised or private industry, irrespective of the call-up of the person concerned, but the Government as such, having relinquished—or never having had—the right of day-to-day administration over nationalised industries, could not attempt to impose such conditions on the boards conducting the affairs of nationalised industries.
I am sorry to interrupt again because the hon. Gentleman is so co-operative but I think it does serve a useful purpose. With regard to the local authorities having the right to make up salaries and also keep the superannuated rights of their employees, I understand they made representations to the Ministers concerned. I believe it is analogous to this Bill and I hope that the hon. Member will do it.
I understand that point is under discussion at the present time and naturally one cannot make a statement about it.I hope the House will now agree to the Second Reading of this very important Measure, and have in mind the concluding point made by my right hon. Friend; that we are dealing with men who have now gone out to look after the cause of democracy in Korea under most difficult circumstances. I am quite sure, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, that when one is a member of a small isolated minority of people who have been taken away from their employment and are not able to conduct their family life and other matters of interest to them, it is incumbent upon everyone of us to do all we can to let those men know we are thinking about them; and we should do everything we can to ensure, not only their return to civil life, but that that return is possible under the best conditions.
May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if arrangements have been made for these men to obtain all the necessary advice they may require?
We shall see that at all local employment exchanges a service is at their disposal and none of them will suffer from a lack of information as to what are their rights. In this way we shall ensure that on attending the local employment exchanges, they are acquainted with what are their rights.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Collindridge.]
Reinstatement In Civil Employment Money
Considered in Committee of the whole House under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[ King's Recommendation signified.]
[Colonel Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision for the reinstatement in civil employment of persons who have served whole-time in the Armed Forces of the Crown and for safeguarding the employment of persons liable to serve as aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any additional expenses which by virtue of the said Act fall to he so defrayed under section fifty-five of the National Service Act, 1948.—[Mr. Collindridge.]
Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.
Public Accounts Committee
Mr. Alexander Anderson, Mr. Benson, Sir Ronald Cross, Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre, Mr. Cuthbert, Mr. Horace Holmes, Mr. Hoy, Mr. Jay, Mr. Angus Maude, Sir John Mellor, Mr. Mikardo, Mr. Nicholson, Mr. George Thomas, Mr. Ernest Thurtle and Mr. Vane to be Members of the Committee of Public Accounts.—[ Mr. Collindridge.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Collindridge.]
I wish to draw the attention of the House this evening to the state of a most important public service, namely, the telephone service. It is a matter of common knowledge to hon. Members who have received a constant and appreciable flow of letters from their constituents upon this subject over many years, that at present it takes a very long time to get a telephone installed, either in a private house or in business premises. We all know from our experience of correspondence addressed to us how great is the inconvenience, and sometimes the real loss and hardship, suffered by people to whom this essential public service is long denied.At present it is quite usual to wait a period of years to get a telephone put in. The delay varies from one part of the country to another and according to the degree of priority which the applicant can attract. But I do not think I shall be exaggerating if I say that the average wait which non-priority applicants—that is to say the ordinary residential or business applicant as distinct from doctors and midwives and such people—have already experienced is something like three years. I myself know of cases where people have been waiting six years and I should imagine a fair average figure is about three years. I do not know whether the Assistant Postmaster-General can give us the actual figure; but at least he can give us a well-informed guess, and I should think it is more likely to be more than less than three years. I know at least of one part of the country where business applicants are waiting for more than three years. I suggest to the Assistant Postmaster-General that in at least some parts, and it may be throughout the country, applicants enjoying the highest priority, such as doctors, midwives and farmers, are having to wait two months for the installation of telephones, whereas before the war they had to wait only a fortnight. Two months was the figure given by the Minister in reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks-Beach) in answer to a Parliamentary Question this week. I hope he will agree, as I am sure the House will agree, that a delay of two months in the installa- tion of top priority telephones is entirely unacceptable. There are about half a million people waiting for telephones in this country. The last figure was 547,000, in July this year. I hope the Minister will tell us whether that figure has gone up or down, but I am sure it must still be more than half a million, which is a quite fantastic number in relation to the population. To put it graphically, I estimate that if they formed a queue they would stretch four deep from the door of this House to Brighton. Perhaps it is a pity they do not do so as they might then get earlier redress of their grievance. I suggested that the average rate up to the present has been three years; but what is more important is, what is the average wait to be from now on? We have 500,000 on the waiting list. That is the ordinary waiting list, not doctors and midwives. How long has the 250,000th person to wait for a telephone? I assume he has already waited three years. I know that people on that waiting list have different degrees of priority, but take the average person in the middle of the list. He has waited three years already. How much longer has he to wait? According to the present rate of connections—and assuming there is no change—I estimate, although I hope I am wrong, that it will be another three or four years and, in some parts of the country, very much longer. A state of affairs in which, five-and-a-half years after the war, the ordinary applicant for a telephone has to wait five, six, or seven years is something we simply ought not to accept.
The hon. Member will appreciate that if a person has been waiting for six or seven years for a telephone he was waiting for a telephone before the war ended.
The hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood me. I am referring to people who at present have waited three years, which I think is about the average period, but I am quite ready to be corrected on that as it is a matter of estimation. I assume that the average non-priority applicant has been waiting about three years, and I suggest that he would probably have to wait another three years at the present rate of progress, which would mean six years altogether. That is a state of affairs which, at this period after the war, we should not quietly accept, and I hope that some sense of urgency will be introduced into consideration of this subject.I want the Assistant Postmaster-General to give an estimate of how long it is to take from now for the average residential applicant who has been on the waiting list three years and for the average business applicant who has been on the waiting list for three years, to get a telephone. I assume the hon. Gentleman can give some kind of estimate. I realise there are all kinds of imponderables and uncertain factors in the situation, such as the allocation of capital expenditure, defence requirements and so on, and I know that every person on the waiting list has a different priority, but there must be an average and there must be something in the mind of the Minister about the probable shape of things in the future. [Interruption.] I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's mind is not a complete blank on the subject. If it is, it becomes even more the job of the Assistant Postmaster-General to conceal that fact from the House and give us some information of what his right hon. Friend ought to do. It is a matter of the greatest importance that the public should have some idea of what the outlook is; and that the House should have an idea, because this matter of priority and the importance of the telephone service is one we should not only keep under review, but into which we should import some sense of urgency in the minds of hon. Members opposite. I suppose we shall hear about the difficulties the Minister is experiencing in the provision of telephones and I quite agree that they exist. One knows there is a six years' back log from the war and that the population has gone up, and I am sure the demand for telephones has gone up. [An HON. MEMBER: "Full employment."] I am certain we shall hear about full employment. It would be astonishing if we did not, and I do not want to break the continuity which exists on the other side of the House by suggesting that the hon. Gentleman should not mention it. All these things are perfectly true, but I would remind hon. Members that in 1939 we also had considerable industrial activity. As a matter of fact, in the 1930's I believe that real wages were rising very much more quickly than they are now and, in spite of that situation, the Post Office of the day kept up with the demand. I think I am right in saying that the last advertising postmark used before the war was:
The Post Office was advertising for more customers, and very properly, because the telephone is an extremely important piece of modern productive machinery. I hope the Minister is going to present the case for the telephone more emphatically to his Treasury colleagues in the future than I believe he has done in the past. I think there is a disposition in the Government to regard the telephone as a bit of a luxury. I hope the Minister and his right hon. Friends are not putting the telephone in the same place as fun fairs; or perhaps I should do better to say that I hope he will raise it to the same priority as fun fairs. The fact is that for an industrial country, and still more for a country which draws a large part of its revenue from agency and middleman's transactions and the sort of services a highly civilised country gives to the rest of the world, the telephone is no luxury, even in the home. It is an essential part of the equipment of a highly industrialised and productive country. We in Great Britain are grossly under-telephoned at present by any proper standard of comparison. I do not accept rural countries of the Continent of Europe as a proper standard of comparison. We are the most under-telephoned country of the English-speaking world. I see that the hon. Gentleman is looking slightly incredulous, but I think the figures for which he has sent will be the same as I have. I find that in the United States of America there are 23 telephones per 100 of the population and in the United Kingdom nine per 100 of the population. The figures for the British Dominions come between those two. The nearest English-speaking country to us is Australia with 12 telephones per 100 of the population, which is one-third more than we have."The telephone saves time and money."
I take it that the figures the hon. Member is using are for today. Would he give the same comparisons for 1939?
I have come equipped with considerable figures, but I am afraid I have not comparative telephone figures for the whole world for any year the hon. Member chooses to mention. However, I can say with confidence that in 1939 the position would have been the same in relation to the United States and our-selves. I do not want the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) to think that I am suggesting that the telephone position before the war was the reverse of that and that we had more telephones then than anyone else. I quite agree that was not the case.I am simply saying that telephones for us in Britain are not a luxury but a necessity, a vital part of our equipment to achieve high productivity. High productivity is not only a matter of coal mines and factories. We earn a substantial part of our revenue from other kinds of activity and the telephone is essential for us. When we compare our figures with those of the United States or those of any other English-speaking country we realise we are badly under-telephoned. I put that forward as an argument so that when the allocation of capital expenditure is considered the claims of telephone equipment should be generously approached. That is the line of argument on which I am seeking to approach the matter. I do not think it is a party line at all and I certainly did not conceive of it in that way. One, of course, realises that the Postmaster-General is limited in what he can do by what the Treasury allows him to do and I am asking him to put up a better battle with the Treasury. But I go a step farther than that and say that within the limits of what the Treasury allow him to do, which. I think, this year is £44 million—
£44 million is the figure the Economic Survey gave for the Post Office and I think that most of that is for the telephone service. Within that limit, with every respect to the hon. Gentleman I think his Department could do better.I wish to refer to the state of affairs in the area with which I am most conversant, the Oxford Telephone Area, which covers the northern half of my constituency. I have had a good many complaints from people there that they cannot get on the telephone and the replies I have been receiving from the Postmaster-General have been to the effect that he says he is short of labour. There are 5,000 people waiting in that area and he does not know when they will be served. They cannot get any date out of him. He says, "I am very sorry, I have got telephone lines in the main, I have lines from the mains to the house, I have equipment to put in the house and I have equipment at the exchange all ready for that would-be subscriber, but I cannot connect him because I have not the skilled engineers to connect him." I do not wish to dilate on these examples, but I think the hon. Gentleman would like to hear some of the letters of his right hon. Friend because he might pay more attention to them than he would pay to me. One, written in September in which the Postmaster-General refused to transfer a telephone, says:
This is a very serious state of affairs, because the Minister says that he can only provide telephones for doctors, farmers and public services. In other words, the Oxford area non-priority list is at a dead stop. He goes on:"we are very short of skilled workmen in the Oxford telephone area … and can only provide service for doctors, farmers and public services. …"
The letter went on to say that, although the need for service in isolated districts was appreciated, it would be a considerable time before a service could be offered. I would not quarrel with that, but the next letter says:"Much as I regret it, these conditions will persist until a larger slice of the national income can justifiably be spent on the provision of telephones."
and so on. The letter goes on:"Although we have reserved a pair of wires in the cable serving her neighbourhood and have equipment available at the exchange, I am sorry that we are unable, at present, to instal a telephone for Mrs. Warren. The trouble is that we are very short of skilled workmen in the Oxford telephone area, and we have on hand so much urgent work that we can only provide service for doctors, farmers and public services, where telephones are essential in the national interest. Consequently, we are compelled to keep over 5,000 people in the Oxford area waiting for telephone service, and it will be some considerable time before"—
[An HON. MEMBER: "Admirable consistency."] Yes, admirable consistency, not only in the sense but in the wording. The letters are actually typewritten, and not duplicated. Here is what the Postmaster-General says:"Much as I regret it, these conditions will continue until a larger share of the national income and manpower can justifiably be devoted to the development of the telephone service."
These are the 1,000 cases where everything is ready; the 5,000 cases constitute the total waiting list. In 1,000 cases, everything is ready and waiting and only needs to be connected up. The letter from the Postmaster-General goes on:"It is true that it would take only a few hours to instal a telephone for this gentleman, but this same condition applies in over a thousand cases in the Oxford area."
Again, in October:"Our financial resources are so limited, and there is so much urgent work, including defence work, to he done, that we can only complete the cases on this long waiting list at a very slow rate."
That seems to me to be a very serious state of affairs. Here, in this one area, there are 1,000 people who are, in substance, connected to the telephone, and all that they want is an engineer to connect up the wires. When an applicant suggested that the job would take 10 minutes, the Minister described it as one requiring appreciably more than 10 minutes. I do not know how many minutes it will take, but it seems to me to be remarkable if that sort of thing is going on throughout the country. Here, we have. I suppose, something like 95 per cent. of the capital expenditure involved in putting in a telephone which has alrady been incurred—because the wires and cables are in and the equipment is there in the exchange. Nine-tenths of the expenditure, at the very least, has already been incurred, and, for the sake of the last little bit, all the rest is lying idle and going to waste. That is something which we could understand if it were due to a temporary local dislocation of labour, and, if that were the position, I would not complain very much about it, but the Minister says that this state of affairs is going to continue until a larger part of the national effort can be devoted to telephones. I have told the House that there are 1,000 people in the Oxford area who are in this situation, but I do not know if this state of affairs is peculiar to the Oxford area or to how many other areas it would also apply. The proportion in the Oxford area is one in five; that is to say, there are 5,000 people altogether waiting for telephones, and 1,000 with the equipment already installed and waiting for the lines to be joined up. If that is the state of things which applies generally throughout the country, there must be 100,000 people in this country who are just waiting for an engineer to connect up their lines."We are forced to keep over 1,000 people waiting in similar circumstances for their telephones to be installed, many of whom have previously had service at other addresses and need their telephones to conduct their businesses."
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that an additional 5,000 people could be supplied with telephones? What effect would that have on the actual equipment of the telephone exchange? Is the exchange equipment ready to cope with those extra lines?
The point raised by the hon. Member is dealt with by the Postmaster-General when he says, in the letters which I have quoted, that the equipment is available at the exchange. He says that everything is in. The hon. Gentleman nods his head in a way that indicates assent. We may take it that everything is there, but that the wires will have to be connected up outside the actual house. My argument is that we ought to spend that extra 5 per cent., or whatever it is, which is required to bring all the rest of those telephones into use. I do not know how widespread is the position which I have described in relation to the Oxford area; I am asking the hon. Gentleman to tell the House. If it is widespread, it is a very serious matter, and people are being kept waiting for telephones when they should not be kept waiting.If the Postmaster-General needs all his £44 million for telephone services for doctors, midwives and farmers, then, in my submission, he ought to go to the Cabinet or the Treasury and say, "We must have an extra allowance of capital expenditure for the telephone service, because we are in a ridiculous and uneconomic position in wasting a vast quantity of resources which could be brought into use with the expenditure of a little more money." I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to do that, and that he ought to have done it quite a long time ago. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman, in the letters which I have quoted, resting upon the defence argument. I hope that the situation I have described in the Oxford area is not going to persist until rearmament is completed. That would, indeed, be an extraordinary state of affairs, and I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, even apart from the arguments about equipment and shortage of labour, a situation in one area—even if it is peculiar to that area—in which the non-priority list has stopped altogether, is a situation which ought not to be accepted by the House five and a half years after the end of the war. I ask him to pass on to his right hon. Friend, who is not here tonight, the message I have given him. [Interruption.] Well, I do not know where he is, but I am sure it is at some useful place. This matter ought to be treated as one of prime urgency, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to make the necessary representations in the proper quarter. It really is not good enough to treat this matter as one on which to keep a large and efficient staff writing letters of excuse, for that is what is happening now. One is almost tempted to say that the staff engaged upon writing these stalling letters could, with a little training, themselves become capable of connecting up all these telephones. Maybe the Postmaster-General will do something about it. I hope he will embark upon that process, and do something to relieve the shocking state of hardship and financial loss which is suffered by something like half a million people in this country at the present time.
I should like to reinforce part of the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell) and stress the urgency of this matter. If there is any complacency about it, it is a very much misplaced complacency indeed. Those of us who represent industrial areas know how often applications are made from people holding key positions in industry who are unable to get telephones, some of them being consultants of considerable standing.I had a case the other day of a gentleman who was able to prove that he was a consultant to a large number of industries and branches in connection with a nationalised industry. I want to complain strongly of the way in which these cases are handled. It is not sufficient, I submit, for my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General to send these people one of those badly duplicated notices which start off, "Dear Sir or Madam," which sometimes are not in accordance with the requirements of the recipient, and which then go on to say in a blurred manner, that special attention has been given to the particular circumstances of the case. Nobody who receives one of these badly duplicated letters taken from the pile and pushed into an envelope is going to believe that. As the Post Office so often have to refuse people, they should at least arrange to have a proper letter sent out so that when people are outraged at the refusal of their request, they are not further outraged by feeling that it has not been properly considered. It is psychologically sound, I think, to send a proper letter. It could be said, I suppose, that if these cases were looked at and answered individually it would require additional expenditure upon secretaries. The answer to that is very easy and very plain; it is that these cases invariably come on to hon. Members who then take up the matter with the Department which, in the long run, means that more correspondence and much more work is involved. Many constituents approach us because they have a feeling that their cases have not been considered. I ought to say in fairness to the Postmaster-General, in regard to the case I have just mentioned, that he said at once when I took the matter up with him that he realised it was an exceptional case. He did not give the telephone, and I was sorry about that, but it did make a considerable difference to know that there was some evidence of personal attention. Those of us who have been used to the telephone for a long time are apt to forget how important telephones can be. If we were suddenly deprived of our own telephones, we should then know the great increase in the work we should have to do, the larger expenditure of time and the general sense of frustration we should experience. I know we get it in other ways too. Telephones are by no means an unmixed blessing, but they are almost indispensable. I use the telephone as little as possible except when I am here, and then every night I spend 6d. a minute to make love to the same little lady, and I wish that everybody else—[Interruption.] My hon. Friends are giving me information for which I am not asking. I must be protected because there are enough dangers in this place. They are opening up fresh avenues, and putting further temptation in my way.
Does my hon. Friend want the Post Office to make love for him?
Good gracious, no. The The Post Office are the last people in the world to do that with their badly smudged, duplicated letters.People in industrial areas are not able to conduct their business adequately without telephones. I should like to know exactly what the difficulty is because sometimes it is said to be due to the lack of material and sometimes to the lack of labour, and, on more candid occasions, it is said to be due to the lack of capital. If one knew exactly to what it is due, one could deal effectively with one's own people. Finally, I should like my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General to persuade his right hon. Friend to make a strong appeal to the Treasury for a little more money. It is not for me, of course, to discuss priorities or to say what money might be spent in this direction, but if we are to continue the appeal, as we must in present circumstances, for increased production, then we must help with increased efficiency. The rearmament programme may be a perfectly honest reason why we cannot spend money in other directions, but it is also a very important reason why we must increase production still more. In such increased production, efficiency must play a vital part, and the telephone can play a part in that efficiency in no small number of cases.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) indicated a diversity of uses to which the telephone can be put, and I think he properly indicated that many of us who use the telephone, and who have no difficulty in using it, are apt to forget the people who cannot get telephones, and who, perhaps, need them as badly as we do ourselves. For this reason I think the House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell) for raising this issue and for doing so in such an excellent manner.The inadequate provision of telephones for the people of this country has been excused on many grounds, and, of course, the Assistant Postmaster-General is going to tell us that a lot of equipment must be exported. I quite agree. No one denies that if we have a long-term prospect in a foreign market, we must, even when there is a strong home demand, make some sacrifices in order to keep that market going. We should be foolish if we said that we wanted these things ourselves and that therefore our customers abroad would have to wait. It would mean that in 10 years' time or less we should have lost the market. However, I think there is a case for devoting more telephone equipment to home use. My hon. Friend said that a wait of three years was a long time, but I would point out that some people in this country have already waited 10 years for the telephone. We have now reached the position that unless one happens to be a Government official or somebody connected with a nationalised industry, or a priority exporter, or a first-class wangler, there is absolutely no chance of getting a telephone at all. It is a most distressing state of affairs, and the country really does not save as much by this restriction as is sometimes made out. If people are denied communication by telephone, they must obviously seek some other form of communication. That means extra strain upon the Post Office letter service, upon transport and upon individuals. Therefore, the country is saving nothing like so much as is sometimes made out, by keeping down expenditure on telephones to the present minimum. I had a case in my own constituency last Saturday, about which I spoke to the Assistant Postmaster-General. A man came to me concerning the installation of a telephone. He was the manager of a mill in the textile industry which was doing a substantial trade in the export market. He lived two miles away from the mill and had to control the two shifts working in the mill. But he could not get a telephone although he had been trying for the last two years to do so. That means that when anything goes wrong in the mill, instead of his advice being available over the telephone, somebody has to go on a bicycle and tell him what is wrong and ask him to come over. Such a position is really not saving the country's resources, and it is certainly not improving our technical efficiency. I think we ought to look at it more in that light. A lot of figures have been put before us at Question time by the Postmaster-General. I think the permanent officials of the Post Office feed the Ministers well with figures to show how wonderfully this service is getting on. However, I do not think that the figures offered really give the true picture. I want the Assistant Postmaster-General to tell me something about those figures. When we are told that some astronomical number of new telephones has been installed in a given area, does that mean that they are additional telephones or that the figure has been arrived at before the ones taken out have been deducted?
The answer given depends upon the question that is put.
I hope I am putting the question fairly. Will the hon. Gentleman let us know whether these figures of new installations do in fact relate to new installations, or whether they are installations that comprise new equipment, and also telephones taken out from places in the vicinity, for various reasons? Obviously, we have to concern ourselves not only with the volume of equipment but its efficiency. I think that, since the end of the war, the Post Office telephone service has sometimes come in for a good deal of ill-considered criticism by the people of this country. I think the telephone service has never been as bad as some people have made out, and has never been as good as the Postmaster-General thinks it is.I believe it is true that our country is the best country in the world from the point of view of the telephone service. If any country ought to have a first-class service it is Great Britain, because the physical conditions are better than elsewhere. The other day, the Postmaster-General said that the automatic switchboards in London were more efficient than, or as efficient as, they had ever been. Frankly, I do not believe it. I understand that the Post Office has a system of checking the number of lost calls during peak hours, and I understand that they are working today on a much lower standard than they were in 1939. I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General whether there is a higher or a lower efficiency as regards lost calls on the automatic switchboards in London. I do not want to criticise the Post Office engineers in any way, because I think the British public ought to be proud of the engineers it has in the Post Office. I sometimes think what a wonderful service we would have if only those engineers could work under a different system, if only the skill and ingenuity and devotion to duty which our Post Office engineers displayed could be placed under private enterprise, where there was not a grabbing Chancellor in the background, taking away the fruits of their work all the time. In those circumstances, we should have a very fine telephone service indeed; certainly the best in the world. I should like to say a few words about capital expenditure. First of all, the amount allocated to the Post Office today is, obviously, inadequate. I want to make a point within the limitation of the existing allocation. It is a point I raised with the Postmaster-General the other day. It is that I am by no means convinced that the allocation of capital expenditure down below the regional level is on a proper basis. I think those who have contacted Post Office engineers and managers will agree. Although there has been some improvement recently, I understand that in the past the Post Office authorities have largely allocated capital expenditure on the basis of pre-war standards. What has happened as a result of that? In some instances, pre-war, telephone managers ran their areas on very economical lines indeed. Others had rather more grand ideas and probably started the war with a good deal of reserve equipment. Those who have been economical have been told, "This is what you have spent before, and you cannot have more in the existing financial state of the country." Those who have been lavish in expenditure in the past have received a correspondingly higher amount. So we have got into a position in the Post Office, below the regional level, where there is no allocation of capital expenditure which is really consistent with the conditions of the day. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will get hold of this point and make certain.that the allocation of capital expenditure below the regional level is made on the basis of real need, and takes into account the changing conditions of the day and the changed conditions since the end of the war. I am convinced that this datum period idea, which does so much damage to industry, both private and State controlled, in all kinds of directions, is something from which we have to get away, if we are going to do the best with the resources available. I appeal to the Assistant Postmaster-General to get his right hon. Friend to deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a serious way. The Postmaster-General knocks the staff about occasionally, and I want to see him knock the Chancellor of the Exchequer about in the same. way. I am not convinced that the present limitation of expenditure on capital equipment and maintenance is really in the national interest. Indeed, I am very worried, and I hope the hon. Gentleman is worried, about what is happening to our telephone exchanges. There is so little real renewal taking place, and such high-pressure working of equipment, that, unless something is done very quickly to put these renewals on a proper basis, we are going to have very serious trouble with our telephone system. That is what every telephone engineer fears today. The matter depends upon the strength with which the Postmaster-General approaches the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is no real economy to allow this equipment, which is expensive to install and expensive to maintain, to get into this state. I hope the Postmaster-General does his job as well as his engineers do, and sees that he gets money from the Chancellor to maintain and develop a proper telephone service.
Although the telephone system is one of the greatest boons of modern life, it is also, of course, often one of the greatest irritants. It would be extremely difficult to estimate, with any degree of certainty, how much discord and ill feeling and what a flow of doubtful language the task of establishing a connection or obtaining a correct number has caused. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell) for raising this matter, because it enables me to bring forward a particular problem in my constituency.In my constituency a not inconsiderable area is served by what is called the Clissold Exchange. If one asked the inhabitants, I think the majority would say that, without doubt, it is the worst exchange in London. I have put down Questions, and I have transmitted the repeated complaints from subscribers. There are doctors who find it difficult to obtain an answer in urgent cases. There are business people who are unable or are delayed in completing business deals; there are men and women who find it difficult to make ordinary social calls. All unite in condemning the long period which often elapses before they hear the welcome voice of the operator—and, of course, by that time, it is no longer welcome. I hope something can be done with that special problem. It happens to be a manual exchange, and I suppose that, as usual, I shall be told that the fault is that it is a manual exchange. I know that it will be said that the question of changing over is a question of capital expenditure and, therefore, the suffering subscribers of Clissold Exchange must wait patiently. I do not know how long they will be expected to wait. I urge that something should be done in this case. It is not fair that this part of London should suffer for years while the greater part of London enjoys—and has enjoyed for a long time—the benefits of automatic connections. I want to say a few words on the general problem. I know that the demand for the installation of telephones has increased enormously and, no doubt, that can be said to be a result of the benefits conferred by this Government; but surely something more can be done to meet the urgent demands which have been put forward. Again and again I have written to my right hon. Friend about constituents who require telephones. I have been told by the Postmaster-General that he is very sorry but they must wait. I have heard from other hon. Members tonight vague references to priorities. I want some information on the order of priority. Is there such an order of priority and, if so, what is it? What is the position of the doctor or the business man, or of other people who make urgent demands for the installation of a telephone? Quite frankly, when I write letters on the subject I receive no satisfaction. Sometimes the answer is that something can be done if the applicant will agree to share a telephone. And the applicant agrees and looks round for someone with whom to share, but there is no one ready and willing to do so. What happens to such person then? I know that the question of the telephone is a very small one compared with the peace of the world and with the urgent national problems with which the Government have to deal—but it can be so irritating and so upsetting to the good temper of people. After all, a lot depends upon the temper of people. In this brief speech I urge, therefore, that something should be done to tackle the problem and improve the situation.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken this evening, I feel we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Bell), for raising this subject tonight. From time to time many of us have correspondence from constituents, the volume of which seems to become even greater as the months go by, complaining about either an inefficient telephone service or the absence of a telephone service altogether.I want to turn the attention of the House and of the Assistant Postmaster-General to another aspect of the problem which, so far, has not been fully discussed. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) spoke of the needs of the industrial communities. The hon. Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), referred to the difficulties of one London area. I want for a moment to talk about the difficulties of rural areas. My constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, march together for several miles. The Oxford telephone area, to which he has made reference, covers a great part of my constituency and the other part is covered by the Reading telephone area. My hon. Friend has given the House particulars of the difficulties as to new connections which we experience in the Oxford telephone area. From what I have seen, I would say that the difficulties in the Reading area are very similar. The position is certainly no better. We have a particular problem in the rural areas, one which is very acute in my constituency. There are many houses and small, isolated hamlets, far from main centres of population, and in these modern days a telephone is something of a necessity to them. From time to time I have had occasion to write to the Postmaster-General on behalf of constituents asking for him to intervene personally in some of the cases, and the right hon. Gentleman has always been courteous and, I am certain, has done what he could but, if there is to be some system of priorities, as appears to be the case, I submit that the needs of those who live in isolated places ought to come somewhere upon that list. But that, of course, only begs the general question. The need is for a greater output of telephone equipment of all kinds, a greater output of exchange equipment and, obviously, a greater amount of skilled labour to do the job of installation. Leaving aside for a moment the question of finance, I suggest that this nation, engaged as it is not only in winning the way back to economic prosperity but also in carrying the burden of rearmament, needs as up-to-date and extensive a telephone system as we can possibly obtain. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South gave some particulars of the way in which other countries have developed their telephone systems. I do not think any hon. Member, least of all the Assistant Postmaster-General, would deny the figures which my hon. Friend gave. Our needs today are such that, in my opinion, we should do all we can to expedite the completion, delivery and installation of proper telephone equipment in this country. May I now say a few words on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd)? My hon. Friend spoke of finance and, as I see it, the position is that out of the overall capital expenditure which the Government have available at any given time, a certain proportion is set aside for the telephone service. I supplement the demands which have been made by my hon. Friends and, indeed, by hon. Mem bers opposite urging the Assistant Postmaster-General and his right hon. Friend to keep pegging away at the Treasury in order to obtain a little more for the telephone service. It is essential that, as soon as possible we should have a good telephone service, and I doubt very much whether, if a real attack were made, the Treasury could resist an onslaught by the Postmaster-General for more money for that purpose. Without going too far into the question, I believe that I and some of my hon. Friends could indicate a lot of departments of Government capital expenditure which could be whittled away a little in order to provide the extra money which the Post Office so urgently needs for the provision of a better telephone service. This Debate will have been of value it the Assistant Postmaster-General and his right hon. Friends realise that hon. Members and the country as a whole, while appreciating that the Post Office is working under difficulties as to equipment, labour and money and is doing its best, nevertheless feel that perhaps the Government should put their backs into it just a little more. We cannot be blamed for hoping that they will try to do a little more to improve what is already a very good system and which, with very little more effort, could, I am certain, become the finest telephone service in the world.
I want to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) who spoke of the need to retain, as far as possible, our overseas markets for telephones and telephone equipment in this time of pressure for raw materials. In and around the City of Nottingham many thousands of people are employed in manufacturing telephones and telephone equipment. We have not always been able to provide a full week's work for those operators and, as a consequence, we view seriously the position of our overseas markets. I want to impress upon the Minister, in the way in which the hon. Member for Cheadle impressed it upon him, the need for keeping one eye at any rate on the importance of preserving those markets abroad while, at the same time, bearing in mind our needs at home. I know that, with the acute shortage of telephones in this country, I may be striking a rather unpopular note, but, with due deference to the needs of my constituents, I feel I ought to stress that aspect.The second point I want to make is that, from time to time, most hon. Members receive letters from their constituencies requesting them to use their influence to persuade the Post Office officials to install a telephone. In the cases which have come to my attention the most important feature is that I have been able, on most occasions, to persuade a person requesting a telephone that there is a genuine, fairly operated, system of priorities. I want to impress upon the Minister the urgent necessity to keep before the public eye the fact that these priorities are worked fairly and squarely and that, when people apply for a telephone, they can be sure that the local officers of the Post Office will keep to that list fairly and will provide them with a telephone at the earliest opportunity. The principal point I wanted to make, however, was that I hope the Minister will keep his eye on the need to preserve foreign markets for our manufacturers of telephone equipment.
I want to ask the Postmaster-General a number of questions so that we may have a fuller understanding of the difficulties lying behind the problems which have troubled so many hon. Members in their own constituencies and in the country as a whole. First, would he try to explain in more detail than either he or his right hon. Friend has given previously the reason for this big back-log of over half-a-million people who are awaiting telephones? Is it due to the fact that there was no possibility of expansion during the war or is it due to a sudden demand since the war?
I am interested in that reply, because the Assistant Postmaster-General said, in the Adjournment Debate of 6th July that in the last two years—presumably 1948 and 1949—the number of trunk calls had increased by 7 or 8 per cent. I suspect that they were increasing at the same rate before the war. That agrees statistically with an annual rate of compound interest which would be necessary in order to achieve the 100 per cent. increase between 1938 and 1950.The next question I would ask is about the sum of money required to clear off this back-log. The hon. Gentleman mentioned, in the same Adjournment Debate, that somewhere about £300 million would be necessary. If we divide that by the half-million-odd people who are still awaiting telephones, we get the astonishing result that it will cost £600 to instal each telephone. That may be correct but it sound grotesquely high. It means, either, that in spending £44½ million a year, mostly on telephones, we should see barely 100,000 telephones a year installed or—and I am afraid this is correct—that we shall wait for six or seven years before the back-log is cleared. What are the reasons for the delay? First of all, there is apparently great difficulty about the buildings to house the exchanges and additional equipment needed. I think that in replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) the Assistant Postmaster-General recently referred to this. We should like to hear from the hon. Gentleman tonight what is the break-down of the £44½ million capital expenditure a year, or approximately that sum, between buildings, line laying, equipment and installation. The next problem is that of equipment. Several hon. Members have referred to shortages of equipment. Apparently stocks of telephones and exchange calling appliances are, at the present time, in one case somewhere about sufficient to provide telephones for nearly a year at the present rate of installation and, in the other case, sufficient for rather over six months. Is there really any delay being caused by a shortage of instruments, or is it a shortage of exchange equipment? Perhaps most important point of all is the question of the men. I should like to echo from my own personal experience the remarks which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle made about Post Office engineers and staff with whom I have had many dealings. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how very helpful I have found them when I have dealt with them in the Blackburn area. They have saved me having to bother the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Gentleman by sending on to them many of my constituents' letters. However, are we at the present time so short of skilled labour that we have not enough people required to instal the equipment for which capital has been provided in recent Budgets for the telephone service? I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell) was talking about the Oxford telephone area in much the same way as we certainly feel in the North of England—in the Blackburn telephone area—about ours. I should like to have some figures from the hon. Gentleman about the numbers in the Blackburn area who have been waiting not longer than two years and who have been waiting for as long as five years or longer for their telephones to be installed; and I should like if possible to get a comparison of the figures for North-East Lancashire with those of other parts of England. Lastly, I should like to turn to this question of priorities. The hon. Gentleman said, I think, in the Adjournment Debate of 6th July, that the priorities were doctors, those working in public utilities, ex-Service men, people who had been connected pre-war, and, lastly, private residences. Like other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, I must say that the complaints which have come my way do not fit into that list of priorities we have been given. For example, in Padiham, one of the townships in my constituency, I have tried to get a telephone for an electrical engineer who does a great deal of re-wiring work, which is connected with the job of bringing electricity into the homes in the area, that is with a public utility, and keeping the equipment worked by electricity in operation. Another gentleman in the same town, who is the head manager of a textile mill, has been turned down absolutely flat from getting a telephone. In the first case it was said that there was a shortage of equipment in the exchange, and in the second that there was a shortage of skilled labour. In another township in my constituency, Great Harwood, two directors of one of the leading firms of merchants supplying feedingstuffs for the farmers have had difficulty. One of them has been turned down on the ground of shortage of labour for installing a telephone in her house, although she was a subscriber before the war. Her son moved from a house where he had a telephone into one where there was already a telephone, but the telephone there was removed on the ground that it could only be kept for purposes in the national interest. Certainly in East Lancashire supplying feedingstuffs is essential to agriculture. So I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman to give us some answers on the overall position of capital expenditure and on the points which I have mentioned, and I should also like him to give us some picture of how one postal areas compares with another, because I think all of us are suffering from the feeling that we are right at the bottom of the list.
I think the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell), for giving us an opportunity of airing the subject of the telephone service, but it seems to me that this is like most other subjects of the kind raised by the Opposition, in wanting more of everything. It is natural to them. I do not want to be too controversial or partisan—not that I object to that because I think it is quite healthy, and one may as well be realistic—but, nevertheless, whether it is in matters of economics, the deployment of labour, or the social services or what have you, the Opposition want more of everything except, of course, of taxation, when it is rather different.I do not know whether my hon. Friend wants any help from anyone on this side, but all the speeches have seemed critical, and I expect that when my hon. Friend replies to the Debate he will be forced to say that, after all, it is a question of "Hobson's" choice: if we want more technicians to be employed on telephones, then we shall have to employ fewer on radar lines, on radio equipment for the Forces, and so on. We shall listen with great interest to the figures I am certain he is going to give us to show how vast is the number of telephones that have been installed in recent years by comparison with the number installed in pre-war years. I think it is bound to be the case that in some sections of our economy, with the best will in the world, we have to work on a shoe string. I feel a little bit abashed tonight in finding myself in substantial agreement with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). I do not know that I want this to go on, but it is a remarkable fact to me that in the previous Parliament, I found myself in profound, instinctive and automatic disagreement with him on every issue, and yet now on two occasions in one week I find myself in agreement with him. Whether there is something wrong with me or something wrong with him him, I really do not know. I hope he will forgive me if I say to the hon. Member for Bucks, South— and I say this as kindly as I can—that he would help his case much better if he avoided unnecessary personal remarks. On one occasion he spoke about the "blank mind" of the Minister, and when I made a perfectly reasonable intervention, he had to reply by saying to me, "Think, if the hon. Member does think." I do not blame him for thinking that only his party thinks, but I can assure him that thinking is not a monopoly to him or to his party.
I was not aware of making a play with the word. I should think, like the hon. Gentleman, that it was entirely inappropriate. What I thought I said was—and I meant no more than this—that the hon. Gentleman's mind was, perhaps, blank on one particular topic.
I feel relieved to hear that it is no worse. Nevertheless, when the hon. Gentleman reads the record tomorrow he will see what he said. It is quite forgivable, but I think it is quite unmerited. I am not mealy mouthed about these things. I do not mind taking it on the chin when I ask for it—but until then I would rather not have It.The narrow point I do wish to raise—and I should like an answer from my hon. Friend who is to reply—is in regard to new installations. I shall quote a specific case because I want to know if it is general policy that has been applied in that instance. A friend of mine who had a highly confidential job left one house where he had a telephone to go to another house where a telephone had been installed for some time. Before the Department agreed to connect it up they insisted that he should agree to another subscriber coming on the same line. Is that the general policy? We should like to know. Personally I thought it was quite unreasonable, particularly in that case. There is just one other minor point. I am a layman, and I know nothing about telephones or electricity, but I have been wondering whether we could have some protection against crossed wires. I know that other hon. Members must have been embarrassed, even when using the telephone in this House, as I myself have been sometimes. I have gone into a cubicle and found myself listening to an hon. Member from the other side of the House. On one occasion, I remember an hon. Member from the other side of the House disclosed on the telephone, "We really are going to have a Division tonight." Of course, naturally, I did not seek to profit by that information. I innocently put my telephone down. I must say, however, that I stopped here that night. I do not know whether we can be protected from crossed wires, but I wish we could be because they can be extremely embarrassing and I have noticed how often it occurs even in this House of Commons. Let me say to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) that, after all, he is not quite alone in wanting to telephone every night. It is quite common. I think that most hon. Members of the House do so. I can make a personal confession. It is not only the provincial Members who do this. Although I am a suburban Member I do exactly the same thing, and it is looked upon almost as a duty. My wife, I must tell the House, is very active in public life, and sometimes, like my hon. Friend, I do not see her until the Friday nights. I think if the truth is known we are all grateful of the telephone service in regard to this matter.
I do not want to keep the House at this stage of the Debate, but there is one point to which I should like to draw the attention of the Assistant Postmaster-General. We on this side of the House are very anxious to get more out of the existing resources. I think everyone must feel a little concerned about the fact that the raw materials, copper and lead, for the underground cables which will be needed for the expansion of the service all over the country are extremely scarce and will be very much in demand not only by his Department but by many other Departments in connection with rearmament.Could we, therefore, have some assurance that great attention is being paid in his research department to the development of underground cables which do not use the present quantities of lead and copper? Unless some step is taken in that direction I am afraid the lists of those awaiting telephones, which are already very long indeed, will only get longer, and that there will be no hope of any improvement in the near future. I hope that we may be given some assurance that progress is being made in that way, so that we shall not sacrifice dollars or valuable exports or armaments to the need for dollars or valuable exports or armaments to the need for underground cables.
I am sure that everyone will agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), that every effort should be made by research to try to find satisfactory substitutes, but I would go so far as to say that the hon. Gentleman, who has an intimate, detailed and technical knowledge of the problem, must know full well that it is not only a question of these raw materials being scarce, but also a question of the materials used to cover cables—rubber and bitumen—having risen in price. The price of rubber has gone up to nearly 6s. a 1b. So when we consider the matter from the standpoint of the capital investment programme it is not a question of getting the same amount of material for the same amount of expenditure by the Post Office, but we are faced with the problem that the costs have risen.
Except certain mouldings which have been developed and which could be used while we press on with research.
I am in complete agreement with the hon. Gentleman that every effort to find substitute materials should be made. During the war there was a scarcity of materials, and specifications for cables and wires of various types were of such a character that it was found possible to get virtually the same results by using very much less of those essential materials than had been used before the war. In other words, far too much rubber and other vital raw materials had been used. The specifications were too high for the requirements, and, in fact, when the need arose it was found that it was possible to produce these goods by cutting down the supplies of raw materials.I think that we want to be fair to the telephone service. The Postmaster-General has always been open to criticism. If anyone gets into trouble on the line, if he cannot get through, or if he is kept waiting for a long time, the Postmaster-General is always blamed. It is only fair to recognise that the problem today is very much greater than it was before the war, for this reason. I think that the Assistant Postmaster-General will be in a position to tell the House that today we are putting in approximately twice the number of telephones that we were before the war. I go so far as to say that this is a sign of the times, because the reason for this increased demand is that there are people today who can afford telephones, but who were never able to afford them before. I think that that will be recognised by hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is the case particularly when we have a capital investment programme which restricts the money that can be spent on the expansion of the system. These two factors—the increased demand and less money available than is necessary—quite obviously present a very serious problem indeed. Hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in this Debate have referred, quite rightly, to the various complaints which people can and do make from time to time about the telephone service. I was very interested to hear one complaint put forward by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort), concerning a managing director or engineer who wanted a telephone in his home. I have a small experience of these matters, and it really is too much when people, who are working during the day in their places of business and who have the telephone facilities there, think that just because they might want to receive a telephone call at home they should come before business houses, shops and other places which require telephones. I think that that complaint is wholly unreasonable. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that he put it forward in all sincerity, but I have found myself, in dealing with these cases, that on investigation it is very often an excuse to get a telephone for social purposes.
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has worked on shift work, as I have. The mill manager of the firm that I mentioned is going on to shift work now, and it is essential that on shift work the manager should have a telephone in his flat.
I agree that it is desirable that every manager of shift work should have a telephone, but there are thousands of managers throughout the country engaged on shift work. In fact, if the tele- phones were available, I think that they should have a certain priority, but, as the hon. Gentleman must know, the increased demand for telephones has resulted in there being insufficient of them to go round, even for those people who have some priority and who have been on the waiting list for many years. Therefore, I think that any pressure that is brought to bear to satisfy the requirements of a particular section of the community, whose requirements are not essential, although desirable, does not help in solving this present problem, which I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite have in mind just as much as we who are on this side of the House.It seems to me that, looking at this matter broadly, every effort has been made by the Post Office commensurate with the capital investment programme to make sure that whatever money is available is spent in the best interests of the telephone service. I visited my own exchange in Bolton about a month ago, and I saw the steps taken to expand that exchange so that next year another 200 or 300 people are likely to have telephones in my constituency. I am satisfied in my own mind that there is no jiggery pokery going on, and however much people try to do a bit of string-pulling or log-rolling and try to get in front of someone else, the Post Office acts with scrupulous fairness, and, in every case, it is a question of priority or the date when people went on to the waiting list. As hon. Members well know, we do complain from time to time. Very often one gets a constituent complaining that someone down the road has a telephone, who came on to the list only a few weeks ago, whereas he has been waiting for two years, and when the matter is examined it is found that there is some other factor which this person did not know about. I am satisfied that this system is carried out with scrupulous fairness, and that the best possible steps are taken to ensure that those people who have the first priority, and who do not want to lose it, do get their phones, and that this follows normally in regard to the date on which the application was made. We all recognise that the telephone service is not perfect and never has been. I would feel as frustrated as the hon. Gentleman did when he said that at 11 o'clock at night he dialled TRU and had to wait for five minutes, but I am quite satisfied in my own mind that I would have had to wait only three minutes if someone had been attending to the job. These are things which the Postmaster-General himself cannot control. The human element comes in largely in the telephone service.
Has the hon. Gentleman ever made a telephone call in America?
I have, but it was about five years ago, and I was not as interested in telephones then as I am today.I would like to tell the House about another difficulty. When I went to visit the exchange in Bolton a few weeks ago, I noticed that the girls had to stretch a long way to reach the furthermost point of their section of the exchange board. I put that down to full employment. In the cotton mills and other places there is a demand for all the female labour that they can get, and there are now not many people to pick and choose from for the telephone service; the telephone service has to take girls of a shorter stature than they formerly did, and it is sometimes very difficult for them to reach the furthermost point on the switchboard. There are all these factors to be taken into consideration. I believe that, taking everything into account, we have a good telephone service, although I believe it can be improved. I know that the research department of the telephone service is of the highest efficiency, and I believe that every day there is work going on to ensure our service being better than it is today. When we have more money to spend on the telephone service and we can satisfy the demand, I think we shall get fewer complaints about it. In the meantime, we ought to be very grateful for the first-rate service that we have today, under great difficulties due to shortage of capital for extension purposes, and other factors, including the labour factor which must always be taken into account.
I must apologise for not being here earlier to hear the debate, and, therefore, I do not propose to make a speech, but to ask a question or two. I can sympathise with the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. J. Lewis), with regard to the problems which the Post Office must now be facing due to the shortage of equipment and the ever-growing and vital need of the population for more and more telephones.I would like to put forward a case for the rural population and to ask that they be given priority in the limited supplies of equipment that are available. It is usually possible for people living in urban districts to use a neighbour's telephone or to go to a telephone box not very far down the street, but in rural areas, particularly in the part of Scotland which I have the privilege to represent, there are many miles between one telephone box and another, and possibly between one farm and another which is connected by telephone. As the House well knows, the problems of the farmer are very different from those of the townsman, but there are many occasions when he has vital need of a telephone in cases of illness and other matters. I ask the Post Office to give greater thought and priority to the demands and vital needs of the farming community, and that, even at a time of scarcity of materials, the county council allocation of public telephone boxes be increased, so that the telephone boxes can be spread more advantageously throughout their areas. In one of the counties I represent, which has an area of some 700 square miles, the allocation of telephone boxes is approximately four per year. That number is quite inadequate. I hope that the Postmaster-General will give sympathetic consideration to the needs and vital requirements of the rural population, both in regard to individual telephones and the allocation of more public telephone boxes.
I gladly join in the appeal which has been made on behalf of Scotland. I represent an area with a considerable number of burghs, one of which is particularly large and is building a new suburb. As soon as I find myself asking for something for the rural part of my constituency, my conscience pricks me on behalf of the other part which also requires telephone equipment. We are apt to lose sight of the task which the Post Office has done since the end of the war. There was no provision, from 1939 to late 1945, for any extension or replacement of telephone equipment. It says much for the work that has been done by the Post Office engineering.I join with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) in paying tribute to the ability of the Post Office engineers, although I do not agree with his suggestion that they would give better service under some other form of organisation. I do not know how we are to prove this, unless we take a look at Cable and Wireless and see how that service was handed back to us after it had been under private enterprise. My most recent information is that private enterprise made no improvement at all, and that the service was handed back more or less in the same state as that in which it was taken over.
The hon. Member cannot really get away with a statement like that. Cable and Wireless had the same difficulties that the Post Office had during the war. Is he not aware of the considerable technical development, for example, of the repeater booster, which they put into operation during the war?
Why was the telephone service nationalised in 1911? Was it not because of the failure of private enterprise?
I think that we had better get away from this side issue of nationalisation. I am sure that a visit by Members opposite to Dollis Hill, which is not very far from here, would be welcome by the Post Office. It would show them what the Post Office are doing in their research department, and I am sure that Members would go away impressed by what is being done.It is not, however, necessary for Members to go to Dollis Hill to find out what is being done by way of research. They have only to look at the Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, which was published in July. They will find there pages on recent developments resulting from Post Office engineering research, developments which are saving us hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. Research is being carried on in regard to the question of alternative materials, to which the hon. Member for Hendon. North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) referred. These alternatives are effecting a considerable saving in the scarce materials available to us at the moment. Despite all the difficulties in shortages of material and manpower, we find that since 1939, when there were just over three million telephones, we now have 5,100.000, which is an increase of 60 per cent. There is something far more in this than merely putting in the wires to connect up the telephones. This is not a matter which applies to any one area, but to the whole of Britain. There are 51,000 engineers in the regions today, as compared with 37,000 before the war. That, of course, means that there are more men doing the job today. As I say, it is not just a question of putting in the telephones, but of providing equipment at the exchanges. At the rate at which new subscribers are coming forward, it means that exchanges have to be enlarged, and that many new areas in the country now require exchanges.
The hon. Member will realise that in the case to which I referred, the equipment is already there, and that the thousand cases to which I referred in the Oxford telephone area are cases where nothing more needs to be done than to connect up the wires.
I think the figures have been given to the House; that of the 500,000 people on the waiting list, 217,000 would require underground cables. That is not a simple matter. There are also the junction circuits to be provided between one exchange and another for local calls. It must be remembered that the number of local calls has gone up by 70 per cent., and that the number of trunk calls has gone up by 170 per cent. There were 112 million trunk calls per year before the war, as compared with 232 million today. It is a tremendous problem to fit in the junction circuits for trunk calls.It has also been suggested that an expenditure of £300 million would be required to wipe out the waiting list. That is not altogether true. Not only have we to wipe out those on the waiting lists, but we have also to deal with the 200,000 new applicants that are coming forward each year. The difficulty is not so much shortage of labour and existing equipment; the equipment is there. The trouble is that the equipment is going abroad. This is one of the difficulties that has arisen out of war. Telephone equipment was one of those items which could be exported quite easily because of the high demand for it from abroad. Because of this demand, the manufacturers were asked to supply the equipment, and they responded to that request. The position now is that the manufacturers are finding the export market is reaching saturation point. The Select Committee's Report states:
"The industry succeeded very well in its export drive, but competitors abroad have recovered and the effects of competition are being felt. There is already a small degree of hidden unemployment and some spare plant capacity. The industry expect further recession during the next two or three years. In these conditions they naturally look to the Post Office for possible help. They do not wish to turn off their workers, many highly skilled and all highly trained."
Is my hon. Friend saying that there is unemployment in the Post Office?
I am saying that there is unemployment in certain sections on the manufacturing side. My hon. Friend will see that this is true if he reads the evidence given before the Committee. Therefore, we can say that the only thing that is preventing an extension of the telephone service is the limitation put on capital expenditure. I hope that the Postmaster-General is making demands on the Treasury for an increase in their allocation for these purposes. We should bear in mind what the Post Office has done in meeting these pent-up demands, and the fresh demands that are coming forward, due entirely to the new prosperity that has come to Britain. Members opposite may smile, but there was not a waiting list before the war, simply because people with telephones could not afford them and handed them over.
Is the hon. Member suggesting that this prosperity has arisen out of such social experiments as nationalisation of coal and the groundnut scheme?
The hon. Member is trying to deny a fact. The fact is that there are about half a million people who want telephones, in addition to the large number of people who have already been connected up, which means that more people can afford to have a telephone today.We must look at this matter from the objective point of view of the amount that can be spent under the investment programme. One of the astounding facts is that the Post Office are spending only £29 million a year, which means, when we translate that amount into pre-war figures, that we are spending no more today than before the war. There is a very good case for an increase in the allocation of money for expenditure by the Post Office on capital investment. At the same time it should be remembered that we have not only to extend the service but in many cases to replace some of the existing plant. One million telephones are of the old candlestick variety—it has been obsolete for about 10 years—and the Post Office also has the task of replacing them. I do not believe that justice has been done to the engineers and to their desire to go ahead and make the service even more modern than it is now. That cannot be done unless the capital investment allocation to the Post Office is increased.
We have had a very interesting debate about telephones, the shortage of which—we readily admit it—has existed since the end of the war. Although the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Bell) appreciated the difficulty in his speech, he failed to indicate any way in which the position could be ameliorated. He referred to the increase in the allocation of capital expenditure to the Post Office, but that is hardly in conformity with the general policy of the Opposition. Quite recently at Blackpool the Opposition were saying that the first priority after defence ought to be housing. We cannot have more houses unless there is a greater allocation of capital investment to housing and if that is to happen there must be less capital investment for other services such as power stations, schools and the telephones. As long as there is the difficulty about capital investment there is bound to be a shortage of telephones.The number of people in South Buckinghamshire waiting for telephones to be connected is 319 out of a total of 1,262 on the telephone waiting list. They are having to wait because of a shortage of labour, but the hon. Gentleman must realise that there is a very difficult situation in that area owing to the necessity for allocating skilled engineers to defence purposes, and, according to the Opposition itself, defence must come first. The hon. Gentleman had a little fun about letters. The letters which my right hon. Friend has sent him are factual letters. When a case is remitted to the Department by an hon. Member we state categorically the reason why the telephone cannot be provided. That is why there is a variation in the letters. What are the real reasons for the shortage of telephones? There is the lack of cables, the lack of exchange equipment, and the shortage of buildings. At present 169 exchanges are completely full and require new buildings. In order to overcome the shortage the Department must have a larger capital investment allocation. However, many interests in the country are competing for a greater capital investment allocation. The power stations, the modernisation of the coal mines, the railways, the textile mills and so on all have to be considered, and my right hon. Friend consistently and persistently puts forward the Post Office's claim for a greater allocation. This year we have been allocated an extra £500,000 capital investment for the Post Office. The figure will be £44·5 million as against £44 million for the year before. An interesting point is that the rate of demand for telephones today is half as much as it was before the war. As my hon. Friends said, this is an outward and visible sign of a flourishing economy—
Does not the hon. Gentleman mean "half as much again"?
Yes, half as much again as before the war. The trunk service has increased by 100 per cent. and is annually increasing at the rate of 7 or 8 per cent. The capital investment allocation of £44 million for this year represents 77·3 per cent. of the average pre-war amount. As hon. Gentlemen on both sides have indicated, this is due to the considerable increases in the prices of the raw materials required in connection with the installation of telephones. The number waiting for telephones a month ago was 543,326. During the last month it has risen slightly: two months ago there was a slight reduction. At present we are holding the position at round about 543,000.The amount required to wipe out the whole of the waiting lists, to pay for the development of the trunk network and to meet the capital costs charged to capital account by the transfer of telephones is the colossal sum of £300 million. It will therefore be generally appreciated that it is impossible for my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General or my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having regard to the present international tension, to say how long someone who is at present waiting for a telephone will have to wait before he is supplied.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us the extent of the demand of Government Departments for telephone services, bearing in mind that in 1948 the Ministry of Supply had a telephone bill of £1,100,000?
I cannot give that information now as it is a new point raised by an intervention, but if the hon. Gentleman cares to put down a Question I will readily supply the answer.We must not under-estimate the work done by the Department in the five years since the end of the war. Tribute has been paid from both sides of the House to the work of the Post Office engineering department. An attempt has been made to insinuate that the figure given for the number of new telephones installed since the end of the war is incorrect and that it takes into account transferred telephones. I am happy to be able to give the exact figure. On 30 June, 1945, the number of telephone stations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland was 3,903,000; on 30th September, the last available date, the figure was 5,294,000. Therefore, there has been a net Increase of 1,391,000 or 26 per cent. We can say that one in four of the telephones now in Great Britain have been installed since 1945. That is a tine achievement having regard to the difficulties of capital investment and the shortages of equipment and raw materials. It is also a tribute to the foresight of the Department before the war in planning ahead in the requirements for laying cable ducts and in making available the necessary telephone equipment.
That was under the wicked Tories.
I was giving credit not so much to the Tory Party as to the engineers. In providing new telephones we have given preference to farmers in a way which the Opposition never did. Very few farmers today have not got a telephone or are not on the waiting list for one. They can afford telephones today, but they could not before the war. Telephones have been supplied to 12,000 farmers in the last two years. In reply to the point of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Macdonald) about the provision of rural telephone kiosks, I can say that more than 5,000 have been provided in the last two years. Today the local community has not to pay the £20 which was required for the provision of a rural kiosk before the war. The allocation of rural kiosks is now the province of the rural district councils and the county councils.
Does the hon. Gentleman anticipate that in the near future he will be able to increase the number of telephone kiosks available to rural communities?
I cannot say. The position is continually under review. The figures for last year were greater than those for the previous year. We are fully alive to the necessity for providing rural kiosks. That is apparent to anyone who goes round the countryside.The priorities for the telephone are: public utilities; health and life saving services—doctors, nurses and midwives; Government Departments; businesses engaged on production for export or the saving of imports. Those priorities are rigorously applied and in present circumstances the potential residential subscriber is bound to come last. That does not mean that residential subscribers have not been provided with the telephone during the last few years. There has been a net increase of 78,000 residential subscribers in the last year. Where cable and exchange equipment are available the residential subscriber gets the telephone because it is in the interests of the Department to provide as many telephones as possible.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the policy whereby if a tenant leaves a house or shop where a telephone is installed the telephone is taken out, even if the incoming tenant is prepared to take it over? Would it not be greatly in the interests of the Department and save manpower if the priorities were waived and the telephone left so that the incoming tenant could take over the service forthwith?
My hon. Friend is anticipating my reply to the debate. That point has been raised by two hon. Mem- bers who asked what happened when a telephone is taken away from a removing subscriber. I shall deal with the point. I hasten to assure hon. Gentlemen that there have been many Parliamentary Questions on that point.Before that intervention, I was saying that at the present time the stringency in capital investment did not mean that residential subscribers were never supplied with a telephone. We have gone further than that. We have introduced telephone sharing, by the shared line. There are more than 266,000 people availing themselves of the shared service. In 1947 my right hon. Friend's predecessor laid it down, in this House, that new subscribers coming in would have to enter into an agreement to share their lines, and that is now taking place. Now let me come to the position of the person who is removing, and another person comes into the premises. There is a telephone, and we proceed to remove it. We take, quite rightly, I think, the view that it is unfair that a person coming from one district to another should automatically go to the top of the list for the provision of a telephone. It may appear to be a hardship and a source of annoyance to an incoming tenant to see the instrument there and not to get it. The tenant assumes naturally that, the telephone being there, all we have to do is to connect it. What my right hon. Friend does is to use the wires and the cables for somebody who has been waiting for a telephone for a considerable time. In the circumstances, that is the most just way to deal with a very difficult problem.
Is my hon. Friend saying that whereas he cannot afford the labour to put in new telephones, he can afford the labour to rip some out?
That is rather a disingenuous intervention. They are two entirely different matters, and no one knows that better than the hon. Member. I want to come to the question which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang), who made a fervent appeal—
Will not the hon. Gentleman answer the specific question put to him by his hon. Friend? How much does the taking out of telephones mean in man-hours and manpower, when the Department is so short of labour?
It is entirely impossible to assess it. We are concerned about being fair to the people who are coming in. If hon. Gentlemen will give us specific cases where this has happened, we shall be only too happy, either in Horsham or elsewhere, to tell them how many man-hours it took to effect the change.My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde complained about the tone and the nature of letters sent by telephone managers, and asked that in every case where it was impossible to grant a telephone we should give the specific reasons to the applicant. My experience of telephone managers, now and before I came into the House, has been that they are very accessible and that they are only too happy to help people who require the telephone. I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). He cited the case of a person who had been waiting for 10 years for a telephone. If that is so, it is not the responsibility of this Government; but I have never before heard of a person waiting for 10 years for a telephone. If the hon. Gentleman will let us have the case we will look at it and see what has been the reason for the delay. The hon. Member drew a red herring across the trail when he said that people in nationalised industries have preference in the provision of telephones. He made the general statement that anyone employed in a nationalised industry is automatically provided with a telephone. That is untrue. What we would do, if it were the case of a resident engineer at a power station, for instance, or at a gas works, and he had to be on call in order to preserve continuity in the public service, would be to say that there was obviously prima facie case for giving him preference, and that would be done. There is no preference whatsoever for the person who is employed in a nationalised industry. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of a business in his area. Lacking details, I cannot give him the reasons why no telephone has been made available. I was then asked to qualify an answer given by my right hon. Friend with regard to the speed of answer and the overall efficiency of the service. A week ago, my right hon. Friend said in answer to a Question quite categorically and without any qualification whatsoever that the speed of answer in the telephone service is better than pre-war. The hon. Gentleman doubted that, but the figures show that in pre-war days the percentage of calls connected at the first attempt was 72.4 per cent., that in 1945 it had dropped to 70.8 but in September, 1950, it was 74.4. The percentage of calls lost due to the Department, by wrong number, no tone or incorrect tone was 9 per cent. before the war, 9.1 per cent. in 1945 and 6.1 per cent. in September, 1950. Those figures are perfectly genuine and they prove the overall efficiency in the maintenance of our telephone network, particularly in the exchanges. I was particularly pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman's remarks that the telephone service ought to be handed over to private enterprise because it would then become very much more efficient. I very much doubt it. I do not think it would. I should be interested also to learn how far he would be able to carry his own front bench colleagues with him, or the Blackpool Conference, on this new plank in the Tory platform. I am sure that the employees in the Post Office will be interested in this new line of Tory policy.
I did not make the suggestion that the service should be transferred to private enterprise. I said that the engineers were so keen and enthusiastic, and did their job so well, that I imagined how much better it would be for them to be working for private enterprise so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not grabbing the fruits of their work.
The hon. Gentleman has succeeded in making a nice little intervention, but when he compares it in HANSARD with the earlier statement he made, he will find that there is a difference between them.My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), raised a point with regard to the Clissold exchange which, as he rightly said, is an old manual exchange. I am not in a position to say when it will be converted to automatic working but I can assure my hon. Friend that the speed of answer at Clissold is a vast improvement on what it was 18 months ago. We have that exchange continually under review, and we are doing our best to make continuous improvement. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) was very fair in his remarks about the Post Office in general. He reinforced the figures given by one of his hon. Friends regarding the density of telephones amongst the population in Great Britain as compared with the United States and the Dominions. True, with the exception of South Africa, there are fewer telephones per 1,000 of the population in Britain than in most of the Dominions and in the United States; but that is a rather facile remark and is not altogether relevant, because no other country felt the impact of the war more than we did; no country mobilised its manpower, money and wealth more than Great Britain during the five years we were fighting the common enemy. To make a comparison with the U.S.A., with Australia and with New Zealand, is a little unfair. Had it not been that we had to sustain the malice of the enemy, the waiting list today would be considerably shorter than before the war. I could not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort). I must say, however, that for him to ask specific questions such as he did on the division of capital expenditure and the number of people who have been waiting two or three years for telephones, after informing the Department only at one o'clock that all these details would be needed, seemed to me a little unfair. I am, however, happy to pay tribute to the efficiency of the Department and to say that we have been able to get all the information which the hon. Member required. I hope he will bear this in mind when dealing with some of his private enterprise friends. I shall not weary the House by repeating all the figures for which the hon. Member asked, but I should be happy to supply them to him at the end of the Debate. I hope that if similar requests for information are put upon us in the future, we shall be given greater notice. My hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) praised the work of the Post Office and was concerned about crossed wires. That is something which is quite liable to happen; it is a question of the maintenance of the plant. The matter is continually under review. It is quite true that interesting circumstances arise from conversations which are overheard. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) asked what was being done in the field of research regarding substitutes for lead and zinc. It would be a good thing if hon. Members on all sides were to visit the Dollis Hill Research Laboratory of the Post Office. I happened to be present at its opening, as a very junior member of a local authority. I live nearby, and over a period of years I have maintained great interest in the work of the Research Department. We have made great strides forward in the sheathing of cables by insulating materials and we hope that in time this progress will go a long way to solving this very difficult and costly problem. We know that the acute shortage of telephones is a source of annoyance to many hon. Members and to the public, but any fair-minded person, approaching the matter even from a critical viewpoint, would realise that under present circumstances the Department are doing all they can to meet this need and are displaying initiative and drive. Until sufficient capital for investment is available for the Department, the shortage is bound to persist, but within our resources we are doing all that we can to meet the problem. The amount available depends on many competing needs of the general economic life of the community. We shall continue to do what we can, and shall be always happy to listen to any suggestions which hon. Members in any part of the House may make for dealing with this very difficult problem of the shortage of telephones.
Has my hon. Friend anything to say about the very strong complaints I made on the question of the duplicated letters?
My hon. Friend either was not present or was not listening—
—when I replied to him. The point which he raised will be taken up.
War Material (Sale To Egypt)
I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to raise the question of the export of arms—in particular, Centurion tanks and jet aeroplanes—to Egypt. This is a point which seems to me to be both urgent and important. Indeed, at Question Time today I thought that the Opposition also considered it to be urgent and important. Their opinion as to its urgency seems to have since evaporated. Indeed, so little urgent do they consider it that their Member, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner), who had this Adjournment and had the opportunity to raise this question in my place, did not, apparently, consider it worth while to do so.
That is hardly fair.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will allow me to make an explanation. I am given to understand—and I make the statement on my own authority because I have not seen the hon. Member—that the sole reason why he did not raise the question is because many of us have been pressing for some time for a full two days' debate on foreign affairs, in which the whole question of our relations with Egypt would be brought up. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member does not wish to be unfair and will accept from me that I believe these to be the true facts of the situation.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I put these questions to the Opposition: if a matter is urgent, should it be dealt with now, or next week, or the week after? Was their view at Question Time, when they wanted to move the Adjournment of the House, that it was a matter of urgency which should be dealt with today, or that it was a matter which could be left to a two-day debate next week or the week after? If it is their real wish to stop these tanks going to Egypt, do they believe that they will achieve that by raising the matter before the tanks are exported, or afterwards?
Have not the Ministry of Defence given an assurance to the House that these tanks will not be exported until this matter has been fully debated?
Not today. Do the Opposition really care in the least whether these tanks are exported, or is what they are really interested in the opportunity to get a vote which might bring down the Government? Is not the real reason that they are not interested in the security of their country, but are interested in the advantage of their party, and that when they are put to the test, this is what we get? I am interested in preventing these tanks going to Egypt, and I want to raise this matter now. It seems to me to raise two questions. First, can we afford to part with equipment which is urgently needed for our own defence? Second, can we afford to let war material of the most modern and powerful description pass into the hands of a potential aggressor?Israel is a country which has been recognised by His Majesty's Government. It is a country which is a member of the United Nations. It is a country which the Egyptian Government have been quite openly and flagrantly threatening. They have refused to make a peace or to bring the present suspended armistice arrangement to an end. What is the position if these tanks and these jet aircraft are turned on to Israel? If Israel is the victim of aggression, are we to resist aggression in Israel as we did in Korea? I should like an answer to this. Do we resist aggression when members of the United Nations are attacked, or do we not? If this aggression occurs and is directed to Israel and we intervene, are our troops to meet these tanks which we are sending to Egypt, and are our Air Force men to be shot down by the aircraft we are supplying to them? Is it safe to supply the Egyptians with these weapons? Is it safe for our men? Egypt was one of the countries which opposed in the United Nations the application of force against an aggressor in Korea. She was one of the very few countries who supported the Communist bloc—and she gave the reason. Palestine was that reason. Was this because she anticipated that she might be in that aggressor position? Is it not possible that we also might have to meet her as an aggressor and to meet these arms which we are supplying? Apart from this general question which comes within the United Nations organisation, how has the matter been affected by the speech which was made at the opening of Parliament—the official speech of his Government—by King Farouk of Egypt? I am quoting from "The Times," and this is what he said:
King Farouk went on later to say:"My Government considers that the 1936 Treaty has lost its validity as a basis for Anglo-Egyptian relations, and it deems it inevitable that it should be abrogated. It is also necessary that future relations should be founded upon new principles which you should approve—immediate and complete evacuation and the unification of the Nile Valley under the Egyptian Crown."
That is the statement which he made. What is to be the position if the full measures to which the Government of King Farouk are pledged are directed against our troops in the Canal Zone? What is the position if, for instance, the fresh-water canal is cut? What action are we going to take in view of that flagrant abrogation of treaties, in view of these threats? Is it wise or safe to supply the Egyptians with these our latest arms?"Foremost among the measures to be taken will be the proclamation of the termination of the 1936 treaty in view of its incompatibility with the United Nations Charter and the fact of the change in the circumstances upon which it was concluded, with the further proclamation of the abrogation of the two agreements concluded on 16th January and 10th July, 1899, establishing a dual Government in Sudan."
The hon. and learned Member has asked a considerable number of questions, not all of which are rhetorical questions, and he has said that he wants answers upon them. Has he arranged for a Cabinet Minister, or even a Departmental Minister, to be present to give him those answers? If not, it might possibly throw some light on his first question why one of the Members of this side of the House had not raised this same question.
If the hon. Member uses his eyes he will see that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is in his place tonight. This is a Foreign Office question, and it is usual for the Under-Secretary to deal with Adjournment questions. I do not want to be diverted upon this matter, because I am dealing with a rather serious topic.I have raised two questions. One is whether we should part with arms necessary for our own defence; and secondly, whether we should part with them to people who may endanger ourselves. Fairly recently the Government made a pronouncement upon these questions. It was raised in this House on 18th September last when this Resolution was passed.
I would ask the Minister three questions on that. Is that still the policy of His Majesty's Government? Are Centurion tanks and jet fighters equipment and materials likely to be required for the defence of this country? Thirdly, are we proposing to export them? Hon. Members will remember that the debate turned upon the export of some machine tools, and the question was raised whether retaining those machine tools would involve a breach of a treaty with Poland. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said:"That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government in stopping, in all appropriate cases, the export of equipment and materials likely to be required for the defence programme of this country, of the rest of the Commonwealth, and of North Atlantic Treaty powers. …."
Is this an appropirate case?"The events of this summer have naturally caused the Government to review our control policy, to make sure that we do not export equipment required for our own defence programme or the programmes of our associates in the North Atlantic Treaty organisation and, of course, in the Commonwealth. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Minister of State for Economic Affairs have both made it clear that in all appropriate cases we shall not hesitate to take over equipment needed by ourselves or by our allies."
Have we the necessary powers?"I should inform the House that I am advised by my right hon. and learned Friends that we already have all the necessary powers for this purpose."
He said later:"There is a considerable volume of capital equipment on order, not only for Eastern European countries but also for other countries outside the Commonwealth and the North Atlantic Treaty organisation. …"
Do we need Centurion tanks? I understood that we did. Further in his speech my right hon. Friend discussed the question whether the cancellation of the particular machine tools referred to involves a breach of our treaty obligations with Poland, and this is what he said:"We shall not hesitate to requisition any that we need."
He added later that he referred in particular to these machine tools. There was our agreement with Poland not to prohibit the export of these machine tools. Later on he said:"In that agreement we undertook not to prohibit the export to Poland of capital equipment ordered on or before the date of signature of the agreement, namely, 14th January, 1949. A considerable proportion of the Polish orders were, in fact, placed before that agreement was signed."
I entirely agree. My right hon. Friend said further on:"I am sure the House will agree that certainly we ought not in present circumstances to be denied the use of such necessary equipment for our own defence programmes."
Is it too much to ask the Government that arms for Egypt shall be held back until the Ministry of Defence are consulted as to whether they can do with those arms for their own purposes?"This process of exhaustive examination of the possible requirements of each machine tool by our partners in the Commonwealth and in the North Atlantic Treaty organisation will necessarily take some considerable time, and during that period it is intended that the goods concerned shall not be exported. In other words, each machine tool will he held back in order to see whether we require it for our own purpose."
And the Commonwealth?
I am still quoting from my right hon. Friend's speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made what appears to me a pertinent interjection when he said:"The first thing will be to see whether any of our partners require the tools."
The answer to that substantially was, "Yes." Any international lawyer would have told my hon. Friend that every treaty is regarded as being subject to the provisions and the circumstances remaining the same. Then my right hon. Friend says this:"Are we to understand that we shall exercise a right to withhold delivery of articles of which we undertook by treaty not to withhold delivery? In other words, are the Government now committing themselves to the view that obligations under a treaty can be abrogated or repudiated if there is a substantial change in circumstances?"
Have there been changes in our relations with Egypt as a result of the unilateral abrogation of our treaty with them? Does that make an alteration in our circumstances? So far as Poland was concerned, the only alteration in our circumstances was the fact that the Korean war had raised the necessity for us to build up our defences. That applies to Egypt as it applied to Poland. Every word that can be said with regard to Poland applies with even greater force to the present circumstances."Since this trade agreement was signed, there have been considerable changes in the relations between our two countries, which are bound to affect our trade relations as well as other matters, and, in particular, the shipment of goods which we may require for our own defence purposes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1561–1577.]
My hon. and learned Friend talked about the unilateral abrogation of the treaty. Surely he will agree that the Egyptians have not done that; they have only said that it is their intention to abrogate the treaty?
I think my hon. Friend may be right, but I can give him the King's actual words:
Later he says:"My Government considers that the 1936 treaty has lost its validity as a basis for Anglo-Egyptian relations, and it deems it inevitable that it should be abrogated."
That may be a question of intention, but surely, coupled with the changing circumstances which justify our action in the Polish case, it amounts to a formidable change of circumstances in this case."Foremost among the measures to be taken will be the proclamation of the termination of the 1936 treaty. …"
Is there not also this point, that whereas a change of circumstances in the Polish case was a change of circumstances which nobody ever said Poland was responsible for, in this case the change of circumstances is a change of circumstances deliberately brought about by Egypt herself?
That is an additional factor, but what I am saying is that everything that applied in the Polish case applies with more force in this case. We are not dealing merely with machine tools which might eventually make weapons; we are dealing with the most modern of weapons already made. We are not dealing only with our own defences resulting from the Korean action; we are dealing with new circumstances created by the action of the Egyptians themselves. All those circumstances make this a much stronger case. That is why I ask my hon. Friend if the Government's policy is still as it was on 18th September, and if it will be implemented and these vital weapons kept back in this country.The only declaration of policy which we have on this subject recently is the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on Monday last, when in answer to a supplementary question he said:
That is a very vague statement, and as it is only a supplementary it cannot be taken as a pronouncement of Government policy. The Government must reconsider this matter. In particular, what does my right hon. Friend mean by paying for them? As I understand it, these weapons are paid for out of their sterling balances. In other words, they have been paid for by what I have always regarded as a quite bogus indebtedness, whereby we pay the Egyptians for saving their necks for five years during the war. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can tell us if that is right. These are matters upon which I feel very profoundly. I feel that the safety of our country is involved. Let me make this perfectly plain—I think my hon. Friend knows me well enough to appreciate that if there is a question in which I feel the safety of my country is involved, in the matter of casting my vote I should not be affected by any party considerations whatever. I am not alone in feeling that way. I know full well that if this is brought to a vote, it will be brought to a vote by a singularly contemptible party manœuvre, which we have seen exposed today. Let us see what has happened in regard to this. Never can a question of urgency have been expressed with greater force than was done by the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) at Question time this afternoon. I informed both of them that I was raising this matter tonight. Neither of them thinks it worth while to be here when this vital urgent question is raised in Parliament, even by somebody of as little consequence as myself. They pressed that this matter should be raised as one of urgency tonight. They were interested in that urgency when they thought they could get a vote. They were not in the least interested in it when it was only a question of stopping tanks going to Egypt."I see that a number of Questions are down tomorrow to the Minister of Defence, and I will leave the answer to him. We entered into a contract for the tanks, and the Egyptians paid for them. I do not like breaking contracts too easily, and we decided to supply those that have been paid for."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 39.]
It is, once more, a perfectly plain instance of the attitude of the party which, between the wars and now again, prefer their party interest to the safety of the country. I sometimes regret the habit of understatement that inhibits my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health when he speaks of the party opposite. None the less, however contemptible may be the circumstances in which this question may be raised in the future, however insincere may be the people who propose that question, if the question arises whether at this time, Centurion tanks and jets leave this country for Egypt, I shall be bound to vote that they remain here.
The House has just listened to what I am sure all hon. Members will agree was a remarkable speech, well informed as to the facts and inspired by deep sincerity of purpose. For that very reason I regret that the hon. and learned Member mixed it up with some very cheap party stuff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Either this question is one in which the safety of our country is involved, or it is not.
Then why is not the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) here?
Perhaps I may continue my speech. Either this is a question in which the safety of our country is involved or not. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) believes at the bottom of his heart that it is, and is prepared to back it by his vote. Why should he assume that he and a few of his friends feel more deeply about the safety of their country than we do? Is it not reasonable to assume that there are people on our side of the House who feel just as strongly and act from just as sincere a motive? I say to him that he has ruined a great deal of the effect of his speech by cheap party sneers.
If the hon. Member will permit me to interrupt, may I say of course I recognise that there are people in the party opposite who care profoundly for their country, but the party organisation today, instead of coming now when they can get this decision altered—[HON. MEMBERS: "What decision?"] The decision announced by the Foreign Secretary. They are interested in it only when they can get a vote on it.
The hon. and learned Gentleman betrays not only a profound ignorance of human nature but considerable ignorance of Parliamentary procedure. What decision of any government has ever been altered by a speech on the Adjournment? If the hon. and learned Gentleman is sincere, he is bound to admit that a vote, or the threat of a vote, is the only thing that alters the decision of a government. We are not going to vote on this Question—
Oh, yes, you are.
We will follow the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) into the Lobby against the Minister. Vote and get them out!
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Jennings) is being hard on hon. Members opposite. They are trying, to the best of their ability and with some measure of success, to show moral courage, but in order to do that, while declaring their opposition to this policy of the Government, they feel bound at the same time to try to tell the Government that they are willing to wound but are afraid to strike, with the exception of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously, does he think that a profoundly important alteration in Government policy will be announced tonight by the two hon. and charming Under-Secretaries sitting opposite?
Of course, it will not be announced tonight, but it may very well be effected tonight.
Then does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that His Majesty's Government are in any doubt as to the attitude of the Opposition on this question? Is the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) likely to cast any doubt on his views on this question?
No, we have had enough. We have raised the issue. We have stated our position. We have stated our desire for a debate with a Division at the end of it. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman comes here and spoils—[Laughter.] Well, the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot in one sentence lay his hand on his heart and extol the purity of his motives and the height of his moral courage and, at the same time, deny any purity of motives or moral courage or good intentions to the other side of the House. Either this is a fair party wrangle or it is something above party because we believe our country is in danger. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have his head in the clouds and his feet in the slime at the same time, which is what he is trying to do.I agree that this policy must be stopped. I do not say that as a party politician. Of course, we are all party politicians. Of course, we on this side of the House wish to defeat and turn out the Government, but is not this an occasion when we can rise above the cheapest form of party spirit and consider the matter from the point of view of the interests of our country? I rose simply to repudiate utterly the strictures that the hon. and learned Member passed on my hon. and right hon. Friends. I assure him that they know more about Parliamentary procedure and about the way to get governments to alter policy than he does. We know that a vote in the Division Lobby is the only thing that does it. I do not question the sincerity of the hon. and learned Gentlemen when he said he would vote, but it does not make his vote any less offensive to his own Government by saying he will go into the Lobby with people he utterly detests and despises. We all have to do that when we vote against governments. I remember when I voted against my own Government on 8th May, 1940, that I voted with Members of the party opposite who had spent the years before the war, up to the very minute of the outbreak of war, working against every single proposal to rearm our country. I went into the Lobby with them and I did not like doing it. I helped to defeat the Government I was elected to support. I, for one, will welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman in the Lobby when it comes to a vote, but he is spoiling his case and not really salving his conscience when he interlards it with abuse of this side of the House
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) rather underestimates the effect of the conduct of the Opposition today. I do not think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) would wish to cast any doubt upon the sincerity of hon. and right hon. Members opposite when they joined this afternoon in what was a common effort to persuade the Government to change their decision upon this matter. However, I do not think my hon. and learned Friend was going beyond the facts, or that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to feel super or hyper-sensitive about it if we say that it is quite clear from their manœeuvres that, in addition to their sincere desire to change the policy, they also wish to derive the maximum party advantage out of the difficulties of the Government. I do not blame them for that; it is their duty as the Opposition. What surprises me is that they should get so highly indignant when anybody accuses them of doing their duty to their constituents and to their policy.
The hon. Gentleman puts it very prettily, but he must recollect that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), accused us of the basest of motives. To do our duty to our constituents and to our policy is not the basest of motives. The hon. Gentleman is trying to mitigate the asperities in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman but he cannot do it like that. The hon. and learned Member has accused us all of being the lowest form of insincere party manœuvrers. It is one thing or the other.
I think that the hon. Member fails to see that he and his colleagues have laid themselves open to precisely that charge. They went to very considerable trouble this afternoon—and I confess at once that I thought they were right—to persuade Mr. Speaker that this was a definite and urgent matter of public importance that must by all means be raised this evening. [HON. MEMBERS: "Immediately."] No, not immediately, because the procedure under Standing Orders did not provide for an immediate debate. But it did provide, if Mr. Speaker had seen fit to accept the Motion and if 40 hon. Members had stood in its support—and there would have been many times 40 hon. Members ready to do so—it did mean that all business would have been adjourned tonight at seven o'clock and we would have debated it. Does the hon. Member remember what his colleagues were doing at seven o'clock? I do. They were spinning out the Debate on Post Office telephones in order to prevent this Debate from coming on at all; and doing it by design. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Oh, yes, by design. By arrangement. There is no secret about it. Some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House were in it too. There is no secret about it.
May I say to the hon. Member that if he speaks of design, it must have been design on the part of the Government Whips. It certainly was not the design of the Opposition.
So the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says. But perhaps he is not so well informed about the designs of hon. Members of this House as he thinks he is. It seemed to me as I sat in this House from about five o'clock until nearly eight that a great many people were speaking in the Post Office telephones Debate, not so much because they were interested in Post Office telephones, but because they were interested in preventing this debate from coming on.Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to take that view, but if, at one time in the day, they are urging Mr. Speaker to deal with matters of such definite and urgent public importance as to justify the suspension of the Orders of the Day in order to deal with it there and then—or almost there and then—and then later on the same day are doing everything legitimately in their power to prevent the House of Commons from discussing that very matter today, then I think they are a little hypersensitive if they complain because other people may not understand the purity of their motives or the sincerity of their actions. It really will not do.
What is the hon. Member doing?
I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman at once what I am doing if he has any difficulty in following it. I know he is a man of outstanding intelligence and if he will make an effort for a minute or two I think he will be fully able to follow this argument without any difficulty. What I am saying to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they must not be over sensitive—
The hon. Member has said it over and over again.
And I am going to say it until even the hon. Gentleman understands it—even if it takes a long time. I say this quite sincerely, that to request Mr. Speaker with all that urgency and heat to treat the matter as one of urgent public importance within the meaning of that Standing Order and then to explain as the noble Lord has done, that the reason why, when the opportunity of dealing with it tonight arose, they decided not to do it—and persuaded the hon. Member who would have had the right to do it not to give notice and not to do it—was because they wanted to raise the matter next week, or the week after, is to convict themselves of abusing the procedure of this House.
May I attempt to do a very difficult thing? May I attempt to get a simple idea into the head of the hon. Gentleman? It is that we want a vote on this because we believe that to be the only way to change the policy of the Government; and we want answers from Cabinet Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman will take a deep breath, perhaps he will grasp both those ideas.
And if the hon. Gentleman will save his breath, he will see that his intervention was quite unnecessary. He himself referred to a very great and, if I may so describe it, an historic Parliamentary occasion when the Government was not defeated in the Lobbies because it won on the Division, but was morally defeated and had to resign. He has said he voted against the Government, and I remember that he did and one honours him for that act. He voted against his Government while taking part in a great Parliamentary trial. But that was on just such on occasion as this. It was an ordinary Adjournment Debate such as we are now having. It was not a special one—[HON. MEMBERS: "It was."] It was not; hon. Gentlemen must try to remember. There is no rule that we cannot divide tonight—
May I recall to the hon. Gentleman exactly what happened? Everybody knew that morning that the debate was to take place. It was treated as a Vote of Censure by the Government of the day and was bound to be followed by a vote. All the "big guns" of both sides were there. They are not here tonight.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair to me and to the House. A few minutes ago he was saying that the reason why the Opposition did not take action tonight was because tonight they could not vote. Then I reminded him that the occasion on which they did vote and brought the Government down—not by their votes but by moral pressure and by the figures in the Division Lobby—was precisely such an occasion. If, by this time, he does not see that the reason which he gave for the Opposition not pressing their objection tonight has been demonstrated to be an unsound reason, he is really hopeless and It is quite impossible to argue the point with him any more. Everybody else in the House sees it.There was nothing whatever to prevent the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner), giving his notice in, and the Debate, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has raised, being raised on those benches, with all the support which the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition could give to it. And have hon. Members opposite any doubt at all that if the Leader of the Opposition was going to speak in tonight's Debate, the Foreign Secretary would not have been here to answer it? There is no difficulty about it at all. The reason is not the reason which the hon. Member for Farnham gave, but that which the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) gave—that they wanted to save it up for another occasion. They wanted to put down a Motion, they wanted a Vote of Censure, they wanted to make the maximum party capital out of a matter which was entailing no party division of opinion at all. That is what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton had in mind when he accused them. I think he made out his charge, and every time the hon. Member for Farnham tries to repudiate it he only confirms the charge and brings additional evidence to support it. There is no reason at all why the thing should not have been done in that way. On the point itself, we do really believe, what It is quite clear the Leader of the Opposition did not believe, though he said so to Mr. Speaker, that this is an important question, that it is an urgent question, and that it ought to be debated tonight so that the Government shall know what the real feeling and, I think, the non-party feeling of the House is about it. I think it is a very good thing that we should be doing it tonight, and not next week or the week after.
The hon. Member claims to be amongst the well-informed Members of the House. Surely, he must know that there is a very special reason why the Leaders on both sides are otherwise engaged tonight. It is impossible to deal with this point fairly without taking that into consideration.
If that is so—and I do not think it would be right to go into any further detail about it—the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition knew all about it at 3.30. In view of what has been said, if Mr. Speaker had accepted the Motion, would they have then gone off somewhere else and said that was more urgent and of greater public importance? It is quite possible it is; I am not arguing that. I only say that if one once says that this is a matter of such urgent and definite importance that it should be raised today, then, if it is raised, one has very little reason for then saying that it had better be raised next week or the week after.We really think the Government should deal with this matter now. We are not asking them to make a profound change of policy. We are saying to them merely this. The Government of Egypt has declared that it is inevitable that the 1936 Treaty should be abrogated. I do not complain that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not think it proper to blame the Egyptians, or to reproach the Egyptians for holding that view. I think that if we are starting difficult negotiations, a very unsuitable way is to reproach and to indulge in mutual recriminations. I think my right hon. Friend was right when he said that they are coming here to negotiate, that we welcome them here to negotiate, that we want to negotiate with them, and that we are not going to begin by getting very hot about the fact that they have declared they would like to abrogate this Treaty. All that is very proper and right, and we are not saying that that should be changed in any way. We are saying that these negotiations are very important to this country. We do not know, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary does not know, how the negotiations will end. We all hope they will end satisfactorily. They may not necessarily end in the prolongation of the present Treaty, or they may so end. They may end satisfactorily, or simply by negotiating a new treaty—who knows?—which will be satisfactory and acceptable to both Egypt and ourselves. On the other hand, we cannot go into negotiations having plans only on the basis that the negotiations will succeed. Negotiations do not always succeed. Even these may fail. If they fail, what is to happen to our troops in the Canal zone? What is to become of our interests under the Treaty? What is to become of the whole complex strategic and political interests in pursuance of which this Treaty with Egypt was made in the first place? In a supplementary question this afternoon I suggested that surely it is elementary prudence in such a situation not to place in, the hands of Egypt armaments, and very good armaments, necessary for ourselves and our other friends in the world until we can be quite certain that they will not some day be used against the very interests which we wish to protect under this Treaty or in some other way. All we are saying is this: suspend delivery of these things while the negotiations proceed—no more than that. It is very difficult indeed to see why there should be any objection to the suspension of delivery during negotiations. It is not even the repudiation of a contract. I am not saying that ultimately we may not have to repudiate. I do not know; it depends on the negotiations. But, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we committed ourselves in an earlier case to the principle of repudiation if the over-riding considerations are right and important. We may have to do that, but there is no need to do it today.
I think the hon. Member is using slightly different words. I think what my hon. and learned Friend read was where the Government said they were ready to requisition any goods which they themselves required, but I do not think the Government said they were necessarily going to repudiate contracts.
I used the word "repudiate" in a supplementary question and I think my hon. and learned Friend quoted the whole case. I used the word, and the word "repudiation" was accepted by the President of the Board of Trade. I need not argue that point with my right hon. Friend, however; the effective point then was whether Poland got them or not. and the effective point now is whether Egypt gets them or not; and having decided that Poland should not get them at all, it cannot be inconsistent with the principle there established that Egypt should have to wait for them at any rate until the successful outcome of the negotiations we are proposing to hold.I cannot follow at all the point that we intend to deliver these goods on the ground not merely that we are bound by contract to deliver them but that they have been paid for. My hon. and learned Friend dealt with part of that point and I should like to deal with the other part. It is suggested that they are paid for because we hold sterling balances of theirs accumulated during the war. We shall have to go on delivering jet aeroplanes and Centurion tanks for about 25 years if the accumulation of sterling balances is regarded as payment in advance. I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that there is no party division on the question of whether these things should be delivered. I think the great majority of my hon. Friends hold the view that it would be very much better and very much wiser, and certainly very much more prudent, not to deliver them just yet—not to deliver them while the negotiations are proceeding; and while we may criticise right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for making as much party capital out of this situation as is possible, it remains true that they also are of that opinion. I think it is quite clear that the overwhelming view of hon. Members of the House of Commons, irrespective of party, is that the Government would be ill-advised in this situation to go on delivering these armaments, that there is time for them to have second thoughts and that we hope they will have second thoughts.
I do not want to enter into the arguments about the policy of party machines to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), has referred. I want to ask the Government one or two questions. Before I do so I think it is relevant that the House should be aware that, despite the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), this matter was first raised in Questions by hon. Members from this side of the House, one of whom was myself. The hon. and learned Member cannot claim that he and his hon. Friends are alone looking after the defence interests of the country. If that were so, why did he and his hon. Friends not put down the same type of Questions as that which I put down for reply today? There was plenty of time; the hon. and learned Gentleman had been aware of the facts for the last week as a result of newspaper publicity.To my mind this matter raises very big issues and it is no good the House discussing it at large unless the leaders of the Government, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, are present on the Front Bench. I will not, therefore, go into the large issues. Personally I think the hon. and learned Member for Northampton put the case excellently and very precisely—indeed, more precisely than I have heard him sometimes put other cases. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said he thought the Government had not made up their minds about this. It may be that that is so, but it has never occurred to me that the Foreign Secretary at least has not made up his mind about it. I do not know whether the number of tanks involved has been made public, but it is not a very large number, and it seems quite clear to me that the Foreign Secretary has decided that the tanks which are now in some depot in this country, and which we have contracted to send to the Egyptians, are to go to them. That was a statement in reply to a supplementary question by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) on Monday, and it is well to remember just what that question was, because it does not seem to accord very well with what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton put to us earlier. The hon. Member for Aston asked:
That, of course, is not quite the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman was putting at the beginning of this Debate. His point was that we should keep them here because we needed them; and with that I most sincerely agree. The Foreign Secretary replied:"Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, pending a solution of this matter, it might be as well to stop the supply of arms, including Centurion tanks, to Egypt, which is proving an unreliable friend, and divert them to more reliable friends in the Middle East?"
We have not, of course, ever had any answer."I see that a number of Questions are down tomorrow to the Minister of Defence, and I will leave the answer to him."
Let me ask some questions for elucidation of that point. Have the tanks actually been paid for by transfer from one sterling balance account to another Egyptian account, or how? If they have been paid for, when were they paid for? Whose property in law are the tanks at the moment? I must not go into the legal jargon, but do they, besides being in possession of the British Government belong, in fact, to the British Government, because they have not passed yet to the buyer? Or has the property passed to the Egyptian Government?"We entered into a contract for the tanks, and the Egyptians paid for them. I do not like breaking contracts too easily, and we decided to supply those that have been paid for."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 38–39.]
They could be requisitioned.
I know the point about requisitioning, but that does not concern my point. What were the terms of delivery in the contract? Is it not, in fact, the case that the contract to which the Foreign Secretary was referring must necessarily have covered an enormously larger number of tanks? Is it conceivable that the Egyptian Government have made a contract for such a small number of tanks—under 20? If the contract covered a larger number of tanks what is happening to the rest of them? The Government claim the right to break the contract so far as the rest of the tanks are concerned; why cannot they break the contract relating to these tanks? Or have the rest of them already been delivered? Is it a fact that a large number of Centurion tanks have in past months already been sent to the Egyptian Government?It seems to me that the House ought to be informed about these matters. It may be that it cannot be informed tonight, but the Under-Secretary of State ought to know the answer, and I think he ought to be able to give it to us.
What does it matter about the contract? If these tanks are likely to be used against our men, why should we consider the question of contract at all?
I am bound to say that I sympathise very largely with what the hon. Gentleman said, but I am dealing—and I think it is fair that I should—with the defence of the Government, and I think I am entitled to do so, because even though we may have larger points on which we think they are wrong, I think we can also say that on the narrow line of defence which they have put up, they are also wrong. It is on that point that I was speaking.I started my speech by saying I thought this matter raised very large issues. As every hon. Gentleman in this House knows, I have in the back of my mind the defensive preparedness of this country as a whole, and the safety of our troops in the Suez Canal area. I do not want to enlarge on that because I do not think that this is the occasion to do so, and that is why I have been on the much narrower issue. I close on this note. I do not believe we can buy the friendship of the Egyptian Government or make any alteration in the stand they are taking against us today, just by this ridiculous—and it seems ridiculous not only to us but must seem ridiculous to the whole world—obstinacy on the part of the Foreign Secretary.
I should like to add my voice to the plea that has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northamp- ton (Mr. Paget). Fundamentally this is a Debate only on this side of the House, because the other side of the House, as they have so amply told us, have reserved theirs for some "more important" occasion. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to realise that, from the point of view of the Government, what is said and thought tonight on this side of the House constitutes the important occasion. What we have to do tonight, we who have been concerned with the Middle East for five years is to plead with the Foreign Secretary to put behind him the memories of past vendettas, and to put behind him the tragedy which we are willing to forget if he is willing not to go on with it. That is the first thing I want to say.I want to add one or two points to the argument of my hon. and learned Friend. He dealt with the legal aspect, and gave us an overwhelming case to prove that, by the precedent of the Polish Treaty. We are perfectly entitled in this case, too, without having to break the contract and within the interpretation of the Treaty, to withhold the delivery of these tanks to the Egyptians. But I can see what the Foreign Secretary may reply. He may say, "Look, we are trying to negotiate a new treaty with the Egyptians, and unless we punctiliously observe on our side the provisions of the Treaty, how can we hope to induce treaty-mindedness in the Egyptians?" And to that we must reply by saying that we have had some experience in the last four years. I should like to quote one example to him. For two years the Egyptians, in gross defiance of international law, have closed the Suez Canal. For two years hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of this House have protested against the ignominy that British ships carrying oil are stopped and not permitted to go through the Suez Canal. I think it was nine months ago that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) put this point at the end of a debate to the Foreign Secretary, who then said that the Attorney-General was inquiring into the position in international law. The result of his inquiry has not yet been made public. I think it is a most remarkable thing that we should be so long-suffering with the Egyptians on this issue. It is not a very good augury for the view that if only we are punctilious in the supply of Centurion tanks, we shall get them to be punctilious on their side. On the contrary, there is every sign that five years of appeasement have had their inevitable result. The obvious anxiety at all costs to obtain a Treaty has increased every year the price of the Treaty. How often have we said, "Oh, we must placate you by giving you this; by promising you that, by not protesting against the violation of the Suez Canal Convention, by permitting you to attack your neighbours, by supplying the arms with which to do it"? Has it paid us? Has it induced in the Egyptians a receptive state of mind? On the contrary, after five years of cosseting, the Egyptians have denounced the Treaty altogether. Now they make it quite clear that in the Sudan, of vital interest to both us and the Sudanese, they are going to have everything or nothing. Next we must ask ourselves for what purpose do the Egyptians want these arms. Do they want them to resist Communist aggression? They have made it quite clear that they do not. They were the only members of the Security Council who refused to vote for sanctions against Korea. A nation in the Middle East which would not take the risk of not appeasing the Russians in the case of Korea, 10,000 miles away, is surely somewhat neutrality-minded! We cannot, therefore, say that we are supplying arms to the Egyptians because they will be resolute allies in the battle against the Communists. They have proved in the first test case of collective security that they are not going to be by our side if ever the Russians threaten, until they are sure it is the winning side. How can we go on providing with tanks a nation which has ostentatiously opted out of collective security, especially when they have told us quite openly what they really want these tanks for? They want them for the second round of their war in the East. They want them in order to regain the prestige which they lost in their disastrous attack on Israel. Everybody in the Middle East knows what they want them for, and believes that if we are providing them we are tacitly approving their purpose. There is not a person there who will not draw the false conclusion that when we send them Lincoln bombers they are designed not to strengthen the forces of democracy against Russia but to enable the Egyptians to carry out their own foreign policy, their declared intention to renew the war against Israel at the first opportunity. Had we not better make up our minds that, whatever the Foreign Secretary's motives, no one in the Middle East will fail to draw the conclusion which I have drawn, that we are still in some way carrying on that vendetta by providing the Egyptians with tanks? But the Egyptians have a second use for these arms. Having achieved the second round against Israel, the next use of the tanks is to get rid of us. They are completely open about it. These are the two openly acknowledged reasons why this nation wants arms. It seems to me a strange thing in 1950, in this international situation, that the nation which has been so candid in opting our of collective security against Communism, in announcing an aggressive policy against its neighbour which we do not approve, and its determination to get rid of us, if necessary by force—that, of all the nations in the world this should be the one to which Centurion tanks, Lincoln bombers and our latest jets should have streamed. Do not let us talk about "only carrying out contracts for tanks." There was nothing in the contract which said that we should train the Egyptians to fight. There was nothing in the contract which said we should train them to fly at British Air Force stations. We are not simply selling tanks, but we are doing a great deal more. We are training the Egyptians in the use of these machines, although they have made it clear that they are not going to use them for any purpose which is in conformity with British policy. It seems a pretty extraordinary situation if, after that, we should continue to send them arms. I am delighted to see the way in which Members opposite now understand the dangers of Egyptian policy. I welcome their repentance, even if it is somewhat tardy. For no one has been more monolithic in supporting the Foreign Secretary's pro-Egyptian policy for year after year—until the side they backed lost in Palestine. Not a word was said by the Tory Party against the supply of arms to the Egyptians and to Trans-Jordan for the shelling of Jerusalem—so long as they were to be used in order to destroy the Jews. It was only when the side they backed lost, that the Tories, in a typical way, switched to the winning side. I think it is just as well that Members opposite should be reasonably modest in stating that they—
Has the hon. Member forgotten so soon our objections to the sale of jet aircraft to Poland, to the Argentine and to Egypt?
If the hon. and gallant Member had been listening to the Debate, he would know that I was referring to the fact that throughout the last Parliament and up to January, 1949, the Tory Party was monolithic in support of the Foreign Secretary's pro-Egyptian policy. I am very glad that they have changed their minds.
I take it that the hon. Member's party has changed its mind and now no longer wants to sell things to Poland?
On these matters many minds have changed, and I am glad that they have. I hope that the mind of the Foreign Secretary will also be changed. Let Members opposite not talk as though they had not actively connived at and encouraged the sale of arms to Egypt for many years after the war—indeed, until January, 1949.Lastly, I would ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to tell the Foreign Secretary that he should not strain the loyalty of his supporters too far. This is not an issue where principles can once again be sacrificed to expediency, as we were told was the justification of our policy to the Jews. Here is a perfectly meaningless concession to emotion. Here is something which has nothing to do with national interest. Here is something which makes us either a laughing-stock in the Middle East, or suspect of the most nefarious designs. But here is something on which the right hon. Gentleman can remove the necessity for a debate and a Division next week by doing something simple over the week-end.
Very seldom can there have been such an attack made in this House on a Government from its own benches as that to which we have listened tonight. It seems to me as though the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) became somewhat frightened and began to run away, and to throw mud at other people, rather like a small boy who is frightened at what he has done; but he succeeded only in bespattering himself.I intervene in this Debate because of the bad faith which has been attributed to my right hon. Friends the Members for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), and Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). It has been said that they ought to have taken up this matter on the Adjournment. It has also been said that this is a matter of the greatest possible importance. Yet Members opposite would appear to think that the proper time to discuss a matter of first importance is on the Adjournment, when no one can tell when the Adjournment might take place.
The hon. and learned Member failed to give way when I sought to interrupt him. He has already made three speeches, and I am not going to give him the opportunity of making a fourth. That a matter of this importance should be argued out in perhaps one hour or one hour-and-a-half is utterly ridiculous.
I cannot give way.
I gave way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
There is another point which it would be well for the supporters of the Government to bear in mind. We have had an apology from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to say that it was utterly impossible for him to be present to take part in a Debate of this nature tonight. On that account it was right that this matter should have been put off so that a proper debate could take place when the leaders of the Government were in their places and able to reply to it. It was for that reason that, even before the hon. and learned Gentleman obtained the Adjournment, the following Motion was handed in:
That Motion has been handed in, and I understand that the Government are going to give time for it to be debated in due course. We shall then deal with the various arguments which have been put forward here tonight. Before I resume my seat I should like to make one short reference to the very scurrilous remarks which were made about my right hon. Friends the Members for Woodford and Warwick and Leamington. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated that they had the interests of their party more at heart than the interests of their country. I should say that the country is well able to judge as to that from their records and that it will turn down with contumely, the suggestions which have been made in a most cowardly manner.That this House regrets that His Majesty's Government are unwilling to suspend the export of arms, including Centurion tanks, to Egypt, whether as a result of previous contracts or otherwise, while the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 is being challenged by the Egyptian Government.
The House will probably not expect me to follow the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Commander Galbraith). He managed to demonstrate, without any assistance from me or anyone else, that the motive which impelled him to speak was that of a guilty conscience. If ever any man has so clearly accused himself by excusing himself as did the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I should be greatly surprised.I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), in thinking that those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have suddenly discovered that we ought not to be exporting badly needed arms to Egypt are sinners making a belated repentance. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), is a very welcome and formidable ally to have, and I am glad to find him on the same side as myself, but it occurred to me that he was sticking his neck out a bit when he claimed that he was the first to raise this matter. The first time that the matter of arms for Egypt was raised—the hon. Gentleman has forgotten it—was not over last weekend or earlier this year or last year, but in 1947—
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Perhaps he will allow me to remind him of what happened on that occasion and on all subsequent occasions when these matters were raised from this side of the House. Two things happened. The first one was that the Foreign Secretary bitterly attacked anybody who questioned his supplying of arms to Egypt and the other Arab States. The second thing was that hon. Gentlemen opposite bayed like hounds at anybody on this side of the House who dared to raise such a matter. I speak from very good memory because I was one of the victims, though not by any means the only one, of the behaviour of the Opposition in this connection.In 1947, 1948 and 1949 they really were most indignant that anybody should query our giving of arms to the Egyptians in order to enable the Egyptians to stop British ships carrying British cargoes through the Suez Canal and to the Irakis to enable them to stop British oil flowing through British-owned pipelines to a British-owned refinery.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is talking about a point which is quite different from that put by his hon. and learned Friend. It is certainly quite different from the point raised by the Question, which was mine.
I am not aware of that for the excellent reason that it is not true. The point is exactly the same point. The only difference is that hon. Gentlemen opposite had to wait for King Farouk's speech in order to begin to understand the intentions of the Egyptian Government, which were as plain as a pikestaff three years ago to anybody who knew anything about the politics of the Middle East and the policy of the Egyptian Government. It ill becomes hon. Gentlemen opposite to be so immodest in their sudden conversion to the halo of virtue. They are still new among the angels and they should wear their wings modestly and play their harps a little more piano than they are doing at the moment.
Will the hon. Gentleman get that wonderful memory of his going and recollect—and say openly in the House—that the point about the delivery of arms for Egypt in connection with the sterling balances was raised consistently by myself and others on this side of the House from 1946 onwards?
No, Sir. Of course, it is true that the Opposition have always opposed our settling any part of our debt with Egypt, whether in arms or in any other form, but it is not true that the Opposition were just as indignant about our sending goods of a peaceful purpose to Egypt as they were in the case of arms. What they objected to was our paying off any part of the sterling balances. That is a quite different point. What some of us were arguing all along was that, irrespective of the method of payment, in supplying arms to Egypt we were supplying those arms to a country which could not be relied upon as an ally in an emergency and whose ultimate objective was to use those arms to clear our troops out of Egypt. That is the discovery which hon. Gentlemen opposite have made since Thursday of last week.I want to make two other points. The first is to ask: What could these arms possibly be for that is in any way a national interest of this country or of the allies of this country? It is true, as has already been pointed out, that Egypt was the only member of the Security Council which would not support the British, the Americans and others in condemning aggression in Korea, and that, as one of my hon. Friends has pointed out, does not promise too well about any use to which the Egyptians may put these arms. Those whose memories go back further may recall that at a critical stage in the recent war when we were fighting a military dictatorship, those who were in charge of our affairs in that part of the world had on one occasion more difficulties than they ought to have had, merely because they could get no cooperation from the Egyptians in our defence of the Egyptians' own country, because the Egyptians thought that we were losing. The Egyptians are as good allies as anybody who likes to back a horse the moment after the result has been declared. At the moment they do not fancy our chance too high, but there is no reason why we should do anything to make them more powerful in their choice. The Defence Minister this afternoon, under considerable pressure from both sides of the House—I cannot remember in my short Parliamentary experience any occasion on such a major issue when there was such a large degree of unanimity in the House—said that as from now we shall only export arms as far as that export will be of strategic value to this country. Clearly there lies within that phrase an opportunity for the Government, starting from scratch, to reconsider every export to Egypt, from the very next tank and the very next jet plane. The position has changed. That which is true today is quite different, in respect of our relations with Egypt, from what was true less than a week ago. One could start to make what I think the military men call "a fresh appraisal" of the extent to which a single extra bullet put in the hands of Egypt is, to quote the words of the Minister of Defence, "of strategic value" to this country. There seems to be no earthly reason in logic, in principle or in expediency why, as from this moment or from half past three this afternoon when the whole House revealed its views with unmistakable clarity, the Government should not make a fresh appraisal of the extent to which they can now consider. at least until our relations with Egypt are clearer than they now are, whether it is against the stategic interest of this country that one single extra weapon should be sent. We seem to have had, over the last few years, a blind spot in our policy in the Middle East. It is time that our eyes were opened and that that blind spot was removed, and that we devoted to our Middle East policy the same criteria of care for our national interest and security that we devote to the rest of the world.
One point, at any rate, in this Debate is a very short one. That is, whether we should at this moment be sending arms to Egypt. I think it is quite obvious that the vast majority of the House say that we should not do so. We have heard and read that the Egyptians propose at the earliest possible moment to abrogate the existing treaty. We know that these arms may conceivably be used against our own countrymen and may very probably be used to fish in the troubled waters of the near East. As a crowning blow, they are to be paid for out of the balances accumulated by Egypt from us as a fee for our defence of her own country. Personally, I do not think that that point needs labouring any further.I see no reason why the shipments of arms should not be suspended It may well be that they should not be cancelled until after the treaty negotiations have taken place, but there seems to be an overwhelming case for the suspension of these shipments until those negotiations have either reached a successful conclusion or, as they may do, break down. I confess that I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) when he very rightly pointed out that smiles or blandishments to the Egyptians are not very likely to influence them now if they have not done so over the last six years. There is another and perhaps minor point. I do not believe armoured formations can be trained unless they can be supplied, not only with tanks, but with modern tanks, and unless they can be supplied in sufficient numbers to make it possible to train large formations at one time. It seems at least open to doubt whether we have the tanks in this country to enable us to train our own men here at home. We have watched over the past years the tide of a war-time climate advancing step by step over the world. Even in the last few weeks we have seen very significant events which can only be interpreted as the on-march of hostilities. We have listened to a very liberal-minded Home Secretary saying that he could not allow a peace conference to take place in this country.
He did not say that.
I withdraw. He said that he could not allow certain delegates to a peace conference to enter this country. It is not unfair to the right hon. Gentleman to say that on that occasion he based his argument, broadly speaking, on the view that we were not living in a peaceful world and that it was dangerous to allow certain nationals of countries with whom we are nominally at peace to come here because they would use their entry into this country for what were, in fact, the purposes of war—cold war, if you like. We are now asking the Foreign Secretary to suspend certain contracts—again, with a country with whom we are at peace—and, possibly. ultimately to cancel them.I do not think that we can accept this incursion of the tide of a war-time climate step by step over the world. The great strength of this country in the past has been that we have gone out of our way before each war to attempt a peaceful solution. I do not believe that the present state of the world is in any way due to this country. I do not believe that the atmosphere of war is anything that we are creating. It may be something which, indeed, we cannot prevent, but here again, we must make a plea with the Foreign Secretary to see whether he cannot make another great effort to bring the leaders of the world together at the highest level and to see if the root causes of these matters cannot be eliminated. The root cause of this Debate here tonight is not the question of tanks to Egypt. What we are dealing with tonight is a disease of the whole world, and this is merely a symptom. Until we strike at the roots of that disease, we shall be here night after night on the Adjournment or on some other form of debate, tackling this sort of problem. The only end then that I believe would be in sight is war and, therefore, without in the least seeking to blame the Foreign Secretary in any way for what has occurred, we must ask him to make one further effort. a great positive effort, to bring together the only people who today can remove the conditions which make it necessary to cancel contracts, to keep out nationals of foreign countries, to interfere with world trade, and in general to build up this war atmosphere. We have heard that Egypt may be contemplating attacking in the Near East. If that is so, it is because today the waters of the world are troubled. If those waters were not troubled she would not dare even to consider such a thing. Therefore, we should not close on a negative note. Let us stop these arms going to Egypt; but let us at the same time take some positive action to remove the causes of our present discontents.
I do not propose to enter into the party political argument as to the reason why the Debate has taken the line which it has taken, as regards the lack of Members of the Opposition participating and the fact that it has largely been a backbenchers' Debate so far as we on this side are concerned. I will, however, say this. It is normal procedure that Cabinet Ministers or senior Ministers do not reply to debates on the Adjournment—that is an accepted practice in the House but in view of the heat which was engendered at Question Time today, and in view of the seriousness with which the situation was viewed by Members of the Opposition, had it been decided that the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and others should be here tonight to raise this question, then of course there would have been Cabinet Ministers and senior Ministers here to reply.I have listened with great attention to the speeches which have been made, and I hope that in my attempt to answer the points made by my hon. Friends, they will find, when they have heard and listened to the Government's explanation of the situation and of the policy we are pursuing, that their loyalty will not be strained, as it was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) it might be.
Not unless my hon. Friend has changed his mind.
The Under-Secretary of State said that had the Leader of the Opposition and other senior Members—
The hon. and gallant Member cannot speak again without the leave of the Hounse.
On a point of order.
I will hear the point of order.
I was only putting a question to the hon. Gentleman regarding a question he had raised—
I had difficulty in hearing and did not realise that.
May I pursue the question? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The hon. Gentleman—
Order! I think that as the Minister has given way, the least that hon. Members can do is to keep quiet whilst the question is asked.
On a point of order. There are practices in the House which many of us like to keep. I have never, in all the time I have been in the House, refused to give way to an interruption—