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Commons Chamber

Volume 481: debated on Tuesday 28 November 1950

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 28th November, 1950

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

National Insurance

Personal Case

1.

asked the Minister of National Insurance why Mrs. C. Brewer, of 35, Somerset Road, Mead-vale, Redhill, Surrey, has been refused an increased widow's pension.

The immediate ground on which the statutory authorities rejected Mrs. Brewer's application was that it was made some 10 months after the last day fixed for making such applications. I have no powers to interfere with this decision.

Is the Minister aware that this widow was unable to make application earlier owing to ill-health, and that the application was supported by the Ministry's own tribunal?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is quite right in his facts. He must realise that it is necessary for us to fix a period during which applications can be made, and I think that we did everything in our power to make this generally known in the country. Furthermore, if he examines the relevant documents he will find that we have no evidence that Mrs. Brewer was incapacitated on the relevant date in July, 1948. November, 1948, yes; but not July, 1948.

Contribution Rates

2.

asked the Minister of National Insurance what is the current surplus of the Unemployment Fund; and what consideration has been given to a readjustment of the rates of contribution.

The Unemployment Fund ceased to exist on 5th July, 1948, when the balance of about £544 million was absorbed into the general National Insurance (Reserve) Fund. As from that date all National Insurance contributions have been paid into a common fund. The rates are laid down by the Act, and could only be readjusted as part of a general review of the finances of the scheme.

Old Age Pensioners

3.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if she will take steps to amend the retirement pensions provisions of the National Insurance Act, 1946, in order to assist elderly people who want to continue half or full-time paid work.

The provisions in question were designed to encourage continuance in work beyond minimum pension age: if, however, the hon. Member has a particular proposal in mind, perhaps he will let me know.

Would not the right hon. Lady agree that, without interfering in any way with the rights of people to draw their pensions at the present ages, we must try to think of new ways of encouraging, and providing incentives for, those who wish to continue in work beyond those ages?

4.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether she will raise the amount an old age pensioner is permitted to earn before such earnings affect the pension received, in view of the fall in the value of money since the regulations were made.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), on 2nd May, a copy of which I am sending him.

Bearing in mind that the weekly allowance of 26s. fixed in 1946 is now, owing to the fall in the value of the pound, worth only 20s. 8d., does not the Minister think that some concession is due to the old age pensioners?

5.

asked the Minister of National Insurance the number of men and women in receipt of retirement, contributory and non-contributory old age pensions at the latest convenient date and the number in receipt of supplementary assistance, together with comparable figures for a convenient date prior to the latest increase in the scales of the National Assistance Board.

At 30th September, 1950, of the 4,620,000 men and women in receipt of retirement, contributory and non-contributory old age pensions it is estimated that nearly 900,000 were in receipt of assistance grants. The comparable figures at 31st March, 1950, were 4,600,000 and 800,000 respectively.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that if she allowed some of these old age pensioners to put in a little more time and earn a little more money, it would ease the situation for the Assistance Board? This is a sore point at present with many of the old age pensioners, in view of the full employment at the present time.

6.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if she will grant a bonus, at Christmas, of five shillings or other reasonable sum, to old age pensioners in receipt of National Assistance to enable them to share more equitably in the increased foodstuffs made available then.

I have no power to do this. National Assistance grants are governed by statutory regulations which provide for regular weekly payments.

Will my right hon. Friend advise us what power the Assistance Board would have to deal with a matter of this nature? Has the Assistance Board no power at all to grant extra supplementation?

7.

asked the Minister of National Insurance what increase in the weekly National Insurance contribution would be necessary to grant an additional week's old age pension to all old age pensioners, and to those in receipt of National Assistance allowance, respectively, in the week preceding Christmas.

National Assistance is not payable out of National Insurance contributions. As regards retirement and old age pensioners, an increase of about one penny in the weekly rates of contributions and an Exchequer contribution of nearly £2 million would be necessary to meet the cost of an additional weekly payment at Christmas.

9.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the rising cost of living, she will widen the discretionary powers of the officers of the National Assistance Board in the granting of special fuel and clothing allowances to old age pensioners.

I am informed by the Board that they have no reason to think that the discretionary powers conferred by the current regulations, which are intended to deal with the special circumstances of individual cases, are not wide enough for that purpose.

As the Minister considers that the present powers are wide enough and as the country really does not believe this at all, would the Minister consider making an obligatory payment in the six winter months of 2s. 6d. per week for old age pensioners who need fuel and are living alone? Will she also consider making the allowance for clothing a common need instead of an exceptional need, because clothing really is a common need and these old people are not getting what they require?

In the interests of the Exchequer, we should allow officials to exercise their discretion. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want any old age pensioner, irrespective of his means, to be given an allowance for coal. There are old age pensioners in Park Lane, and they probably have plenty of coal. What I have asked the hon. Gentleman to agree is that the right approach is to allow the officials to exercise their discretion.

11.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if she has considered the copy sent to her of the resolution passed by the Lancaster and District Area Council of the Old Age Pensioners' Association in connection with the sum of £100 million that was transferred to the National Insurance Fund in July, 1948; and if she will make a statement.

I would refer the hon. Member to the very full reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) on 7th November.

14.

asked the Minister of National Insurance how many old age pensioners are drawing contributory pensions in Coatbridge and Airdrie; how many are receiving supplementary allowances to these pensions; and what is the average supplementary allowance on the single pension of 26s.

At the end of September last in the area administered from the board's office at Coatbridge, 1,797 regular weekly grants of National Assistance were being made in supplementation of retirement pensions. I regret that the other information asked for is not available.

Statistics (West Ham)

8.

asked the Minister of National Insurance the number of persons in receipt of, and the total amounts paid in: old age pensions, supplementary allowances, family allowances, Unemployment Insurance benefits, National Assistance grants, National Health benefits, nationally and for the county borough of West Ham at the latest convenient date, together with the comparable figures in the week preceding the introduction of the present National Insurance Acts.

I regret that the statistics available do not make it possible to give a comprehensive answer to this Question, but I am writing to my hon. Friend more fully about it.

Tuberculosis (Nurses, Insurance)

10.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if she will make a statement about the prescription of tuberculosis for nurses under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act.

Yes, Sir. I have considered the Report of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council on this subject. I have decided to accept their recommendation that nurses and certain other workers, the nature of whose employment involves close and frequent contact with tuberculous infection, should be insured under the Act against disease due to such infection. The necessary regulations will be made as soon as the detailed arrangements have been worked out in consultation with the Health Departments. Copies of the Report will be available at the Vote Office after Questions.

Will my right hon. Friend do her best to give full publicity to this statement, explaining its exact significance, because it should have a very important effect on the recruiting of nurses for sanatoria?

While I thank my right hon. Friend for what she has said, would she not agree that in order to get more nurses into the sanatoria we must remove the fear of infection? Will she point out, particularly to the parents, that where precautions are taken in T.B. sanatoria there is no fear of infection?

Yes, Sir. I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point. It is a fact that the precautions which the nurses and other health workers are able to take today are such that the chances of contracting tuberculosis are very small.

Would the right hon. Lady agree that the figures and facts show that fewer nurses have contracted tuberculosis in sanatoria than in practically any other work?

Fluorosis (Report)

12.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the information published in the Fluorosis Report, Number 22, by the Medical Research Council, issued by His Majesty's Stationery Office in March, 1949, the Government will now declare fluorosis to be an industrial disease.

No, Sir. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council considered the Report in June, 1949, and advised that, in view of its findings, there would be no justification for prescribing the disease.

Will the right hon. Lady agree that on page 68 the Report says:

"Within each broad age-group there is little doubt that there tends to be an increasing incidence of X-ray abnormalities with increasing length of exposure to fumes"?
Furthermore, is she aware that, as a result of ill-health, 447 workers left the British Aluminium Company last year—that is, nearly one-third of the workers employed there—after having been there a short time?

I have examined the Report and the X-ray pictures very carefully and I recognise that there are certain bony changes, but the noble Lord must realise that I was advised by eminent doctors in this matter and they say that there are no clinical symptoms which would justify the prescription of this disease.

Widows' Pensions

13.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if she recognises the great hardship imposed on certain widows of 55 years of age and over who cannot qualify for full pension rights at 60 years of age, unless they contribute 3s. 8d. weekly; and, in view of the great difficulty these widows have in finding employment, if she will review the position and try to alleviate this particular hardship.

In a contributory insurance scheme it is inevitable that failure to pay contributions may entail loss of benefit, but my hon. Friend's Question does not enable me to identify the particular cases of hardship she has in mind. Perhaps she will write to me giving particulars.

Employment

Industrial Disputes

16.

asked the Minister of Labour what percentage of all industrial disputes since 1945 have taken place in the nationalised industries.

As all the industries concerned were not nationalised on the same date, the information asked for by the hon. Member is not readily available and could only be obtained by a disproportionate expenditure of time which would not be justified.

How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile this answer and the answer which he gave to a supplementary question of mine on 14th November with the facts revealed in the Ministry of Labour Gazette that in the current year more than 55 per cent. of all the days lost have occurred in the nationalised industries, which employ nearly a quarter of the labour force?

There is nothing inconsistent about it. I was asked to give an answer about what has happened since 1945, but of the nationalised industries two were nationalised in 1946, two in 1947, three in 1948, and one in 1949, and therefore I cannot cover the whole period for all of them.

Of course the right hon. Gentleman can. I never heard anything so silly.

25.

asked the Minister of Labour the number of days lost through industrial disputes in 1949, giving the percentages for nationalised industries and private industries, respectively.

The aggregate number of working days lost in 1949 in stoppages of work arising from industrial disputes was about 1,807,000. About 46 per cent. of this total was lost in stoppages in industries which have been nationalised since 1945 and about 54 per cent. in other industries.

In view of the disparity between the numbers employed in nationalised and private industries, is it not perfectly clear that there is much more social dissatisfaction in nationalised industries than in others?

27.

asked the Minister of Labour the number of days lost and the average time lost per man per year arising from industrial disputes in the coalmining industry for the five years 1935 to 1939 and 1945 to 1949.

For the five years 1935 to 1939 the number of days lost by industrial disputes in the coalmining industry was a yearly average of 996,000 days. For the five years 1945 to 1949 the yearly average was 639,000 days. The average number of days lost per wage-earner per year was about 1¼ days in 1935–39, and slightly less than one day in 1945–49.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the answer he has given will give the lie direct to the statements made recently that there have been more disputes, and more time lost in the nationalised coal industry than before the coal industry was nationalised?

Aircraft Firms (Redundant Employees)

17.

asked the Minister of Labour the average number of redundant employees in firms making military planes since January, 1950.

I am not clear what the hon. Member has in mind, but if he will write to me I will see what information is available.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are, and have been throughout the period, pockets of unemployment in aircraft factories? Is not that a remarkable example of the national situation under Socialist planning?

The hon. Gentleman's Question does not make that clear. I have no evidence of unemployment inside the factories.

Foundry Workers

18.

asked the Minister of Labour what are the prospects of the implementation of the Garrett Report in connection with foundry workers.

Progress in this direction continues, but many of the recommendations are of a long-term nature. I am sending my hon. Friend a more detailed statement by letter.

19.

asked the Minister of Labour if in view of the information available in the publications by his Department of summaries of reports and medical papers on industrial lung diseases in the past 15 or 20 years, he will see his way to facilitate a cheaper edition so that fettlers and moulders in foundries who are now recognised as running a graver industrial risk than was first conceded, could have protective knowledge easily passed on to them.

While I doubt whether a summary of the scientific information as to degrees of risk met with by workers in dusty occupations would give them any valuable knowledge of practical protective measures, I will consider whether it is possible to do anything in the way suggested by my hon. Friend.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the McLaughlin Report, which has long been awaited by foundry workers—it has just been issued—and contains information of the greatest importance to them, costs 21s.? That is a case where some of the points might well be published in a cheaper form.

That is a rather broader question than that which my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) asked. I will see whether it can be simplified somehow.

Coal Industry (Manpower)

21.

asked the Minister of Labour what is the maximum age at which men are accepted who wish to undertake coalmining.

Men who have not had any previous mining experience are unlikely to be accepted over the age of 36. Men who have had previous experience will be accepted up to any reasonable age.

Is the Minister aware that on Merseyside there are many men of good physique who wish to undertake coalmining, and some of whom are unemployed at present? Would he consider raising this age limit for the benefit of the unemployed on Merseyside and in order to get more coal?

I have no information of that kind. If the hon. Gentleman has any information to give me, I will look into it. Certainly we shall not let an arbitrary age limit debar a capable man from going down the mines if he wishes to do so.

Retail Prices Index

23.

asked the Minister of Labour if he is now prepared to revise the interim retail prices index.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave on 23rd November to similar questions by the hon. Members for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and Runcorn (Mr. Vosper).

When the Minister considers this matter, will he bear in mind that the weighting of the various groups, for example, food against drink and tobacco, requires reconsideration in view of the abnormal rise above the average in the price of food and a rise well below the average in the prices of drink and tobacco since 1947? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware of the complete disbelief of the public in the working of this system as a cost-of-living index?

I appreciate and accept the first part of that supplementary question. All those points must have consideration. I cannot readily accept the suggestion of genuine dissatisfaction—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I am in touch with as many people as others. May I repeat what I said last week, that this matter is honestly under consideration at the present moment.

Factories (Fluorine Fumes)

24.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will arrange regular medical examinations for workers employed in factories which discharge fluorine fumes, with a view to ascertaining whether they are suffering injurious effects as a result of their employment in these conditions.

This subject has been specially investigated by the Medical Research Council, and I would refer the noble Lord to their Report, which was published last year. I am advised by my Senior Medical Inspector of the Factory Department that full precautions are taken in the factories concerned to protect the workers and that medical supervision on an adequate scale is already in being.

But is the right hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that the paragraph in the Report to which he referred is really receiving attention, namely, that the progressive course of fluorosis is slow? The paragraph says, furthermore, that the changes in the men who are examined should be regarded as a warning that the conditions under which these men work are such as to call for constant vigilance and a determined effort to reduce the amount of exposure to fluorine fumes?

Yes, and I appreciate the interest of the noble Lord in this matter. We will glady examine any further evidence he can send, but the Question was about medical inspection, and I am satisfied that it is adequate.

Arising out of the first answer, if there is no danger of gas in these factories, why is it necessary for the Minister's right hon. Friend to bring in the Bill which is now on the Order Paper?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why the Government have held up this matter so long when everyone in the district knows that the trouble is going on?

I am not sure that it is held up, but there is a point on which I am responsible, and on which I am answering, and that is as to whether we are giving adequate inspection.

Working Hours

26.

asked the Minister of Labour what numbers of the insured population work five days and five and a half days a week respectively, giving separate figures in respect of industrial and clerical workers.

I regret that statistics are not available. A normal working week of five days is now prevalent in the great majority of manufacturing industries, and in these industries work on Saturday is in the main limited to the smaller factories in trades such as baking, boot repairing, motor vehicle repairing, which provide direct services to the public. In some other industries and services, such as agriculture, building, transport, gas supply, catering, banks, local government, and the non-industrial Civil Service, the normal working week generally extends over more than five days.

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to publicise the fact that we in this country are working longer hours than some people, including those in the United States, give us credit for, and that we have dropped only one hour since the war?

I am very glad to hear that supplementary question from the hon. Gentleman. It shows that, in spite of the fact that we have a five-day week, most employers find they get a better result out of a five-day week than out of a five-and-a-half day week.

National Service

Coalminers

20.

asked the Minister of Labour if he will now state the number of men from the coalmining industry who have volunteered for service in His Majesty's Forces.

I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War that the number of volunteers from the coalmining industry who have joined the Army during 1950 is 1,455. The corresponding figures for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are not available. I regret that I overlooked the amendment to my hon. Friend's original Question.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that information, may I ask him to bear in mind the point I raised last week?

Yes, Sir, but the difficulty is that if we were to say that a miner was not allowed to join the Army, it would make it possible for him to leave the mines and take any other unessential job, such as that of a hairdresser, for a week, and then join the Army.

Exemptions

22.

asked the Minister of Labour how many men have been exempted from National Service on medical grounds each year from 1946 to 1949; and further, the number so exempted to date this year.

As the answer contains a number of figures, I will with permission circulate a table in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the table:

NUMBER EXEMPTED FROM NATIONAL SERVICE ON MEDICAL GROUNDS*
Year
194639,964
194724,648
194824,711
194933,818
1950 (to 28.9.50)34,506

*Excluding men not examined; for example, the blind and limbless.

Scotland

Teachers (Training)

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland under what special circumstances a teacher trained in an English emergency college can secure a permanent teaching post in Scotland without having to undergo further training in a Scottish college.

Permanent teaching posts in Scotland can be held only by teachers with Scottish certificated status. All applications for this status are considered on their merits: regard is had to educational qualification and to training and experience. Where these are regarded as approximately equivalent to the educational and professional qualifications demanded from corresponding Scottish teachers, the status is granted without further training.

May I take it from that answer that a Scotsman who has trained in England can get a permanent post in Scotland? If that is the case, is my hon. Friend certain that all local authorities in Scotland are aware of that?

Applications for certificated status must be made to provincial committees, who hand them on to our Department with a recommendation. Certain teachers who have been trained in England are now on the permanent staff in Scotland, but each case is examined on its merits.

Electricity Schemes (Sale Of Power)

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland on what basis electric power is sold from Scottish hydro-electric schemes to the grid; and whether any such current has yet been sold from the Loch Sloy scheme.

The electricity which the British Electricity Authority are bound to buy from the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is, unless otherwise agreed, paid for in accordance with rules laid down in the relevant Acts. The British Electricity Authority may also buy additional supplies at an agreed price. The electricity at present being supplied to the British Electricity Authority, including that being supplied from the Loch Sloy scheme, is being sold on terms agreed between the parties.

Since the answer of the hon. Lady does not give me much information, will she explain how it arose that for some few days recently there was power available at Loch Sloy which was not accepted by the British Electricity Authority? Can she tell us that is now settled?

I understand that a settlement has been reached between the British Electricity Authority and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board on the matter raised by the hon. and gallant Member. May I add that I have given quite clearly the answer to the Question which he put on the Order Paper.

Is the Minister aware that, despite transmission charges, the electricity authority can still buy at 15 per cent. less from the Hydro-Electric Board, and will she impress upon the Minister of Fuel and Power not to quibble over the price of electricity charged by the Hydro-Electric Board, as the country has an obligation to distribute electricity to the rural areas throughout the Highlands?

That is not a question in which the Minister of Fuel and Power interferes. It is arranged between the Hydro-Electric Board and the British Electricity Authority.

Tuberculosis

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland the total number of cases of pulmonary tuberculosis notified in the City of Glasgow in the years 1939 and 1949.

While thanking my hon. Friend for her reply, may I ask whether she is aware that the tuberculosis rate in Glasgow is worse than in any comparable city in the United Kingdom, and will she consider the advisability of instituting a crisis expansion of the tuberculosis services in that city?

It is true that the tuberculosis rate in Glasgow is very high, but my hon. Friend will be glad to know that in 1950 we expect notifications of the disease to be 10 per cent. fewer than in 1949 and the mortality rate to be 20 per cent. less. I assure my hon. Friend that many steps have been taken that could be called "crisis" steps.

As a first step, will the Secretary of State consider sending these people for treatment to Switzerland, where nurses, beds and treatment are readily available at a cost of only 30s. more than in this country?

That is a wider question entirely. The original Question asked only the total number of cases.

35.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that 5.6 persons per thousand of the population of Caithness are suffering from tuberculosis, and that the latest figures indicate that the disease is increasing in Caithness; and what special steps he is taking to deal with this matter.

The position in Caithness is more favourable than in Scotland as a whole. The total number of cases notified in the county is fewer than 50 a year, with no marked trend in either direction over the last five years. My right hon. Friend has approved proposals by the county council for offering B.C.G. vaccination to tuberculosis contacts, and Caithness will of course benefit from the steps now being taken to intensify and expand the measures to deal with tuberculosis in Scotland generally.

Is the hon. Lady aware that I have in my possession a letter from the Medical Officer of Health for Caithness, supported by all the other doctors, stating that they are most anxious about the situation and that many more than 50 people are awaiting admission, but that there are only 10 beds in the whole of the county and that doctors will not put people on to the lists because to do so would simply be a farce when there is no chance of their obtaining admission?

My information is that at present 10 patients are awaiting admission to hospital in the area to which the hon. Member refers. If he has any additional information, I shall be glad to have it.

If there are only 10 beds in the county, obviously it is useless for doctors to put down additional names for whom there would be no hope of gaining admission.

Houses, Keiss

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will ensure that Mrs. Wilson, of Keiss, Caithness, a widow, her nine children, one grandchild and her brother, who are living in two rooms and a loft, which are damp and unfit for human habitation, receive the housing priority provided for under Section 47 (2) of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935; and if he will ensure that one of the Caithness County Council houses now nearing completion in Keiss will be allocated to this family.

The selection of tenants for these houses is a matter for the county council. I am making inquiries about this case however, and I will let the hon. Member know the result.

As this Question has been on the Order Paper for several days, why is the Joint Under-Secretary not able to give the House a proper answer instead of saying simply that he is making inquiries? [Interruption.] What is the use of having St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh and the Scottish Office in London, with teleprinters and telephones, and then to tell the House five or six days after a Question is put down that no answer is available?

I cannot understand the hon. Member. We are making inquiries because of his having put the Question down. I think that he runs the risk of abusing the Parliamentary privilege of asking Questions on local authorities by seeking to convert the Chamber into the "selection of tenants" committee.

On a point of order. May I draw your attention, Sir, to the unwarrantable and unjustifiable remarks—

White Fish Industry (Subsidy)

33.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what he proposes to do about the continuance of the subsidy to certain classes of catchers of white fish pending the passage of the legislation promised for the setting up of the authority to regulate and develop the white fish industry.

Can the hon. Gentleman say when the proposed legislation is likely to be introduced?

Building Materials

34.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give an assurance that the necessary basic materials are available to support the local authority housing allocations; and if he can estimate the extent to which shortage of bricks and cement in 1950 have delayed the completion of houses in Scotland.

We are doing all we can to ensure that materials are available as required. As regards the second part of the Question, I am afraid it is impossible to give any such estimate.

Is my hon. Friend aware that at a special meeting of Edinburgh Town Council last week to consider housing, the statement was made that there was a daily deficiency on three sites of about 6,000 bricks and a weekly deficiency of about 4 tons of cement, and will my hon. Friend comment on this state of affairs?

I am not able to comment on the statements to which my hon. Friend refers. It is true that for a period this year there was a real shortage of those two materials and also of timber, but the House will have appreciated, as a result of a discussion we had the other week, that the figures of recent completions in Scotland are rather in excess of anticipations earlier in the year, despite the difficulties with materials some months ago.

Will the Minister look into this question of the present shortage rather than something which happened a few weeks ago?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the shortage of bricks is not confined to Edinburgh?

Hill Sheep Subsidy

36.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why he persists in refusing a hill sheep subsidy to Mr. W. S. Murray, Crofter, Corrish, Lairg, whose application went astray in the post, as such arbitrary action must restrict the increased food production which the nation requires and which the Hill Sheep Act was designed to encourage.

While I have considerable sympathy with this man, I can find no circumstances in this case which would justify my right hon. Friend in excepting it from the ruling which is applied impartially to all who fail to submit such applications by the statutory closing date. In this case no application was in fact received.

Is it not the fact that application was made and was lost in the post, and why should this intolerable rigidity be put upon a closing date? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that nothing like this ever applies in the commercial and banking worlds, where days of grace are always allowed, and supposing 200 crofters were late in applying—

The hon. Member must not start a supplementary question by "supposing 200 crofters" or something of that sort. That is going beyond the original Question and is hypothetical.

Is it not distressing that these crofters, who may not be good clerks or even good timekeepers, should be penalised in this way?

I should be very surprised to think that if the hon. Member wrote to Littlewood's saying that he had posted his coupon last Thursday and that his forecast was all correct, he would get his dividend in due course. I somewhat regret that the name of the individual concerned in this Question should have been brought forward, but it so happens that this crofter claims that in 1948, as in this year, applications which he submitted did not reach St. Andrew's House.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government should be different from Little-wood's?

Seaman, Bridgeton (Death)

37.

asked the Lord Advocate whether an arrest has been made in the case of the Indian seaman, Mr. Toslian Khan, who was found lying outside a hostel in Greenhead Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow, on 27th April, 1949, with his head and face battered and who died a few hours later.

No, Sir. Following upon a full investigation into the circumstances of the death of Mr. Toslim Khan, the case was considered by my Department. There was no evidence to warrant criminal proceedings, and instructions were issued accordingly.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend be more explicit and tell us what was the conclusion in regard to this case?

It is not usual for explanations to be given about the exercise of the discretion of Crown Counsel in these cases, but in the particular circumstances I am prepared to tell the House that the conclusion reached was that this death was an accident.

On a point of order. Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter again.

Further to that point of order. Could we have a ruling, Mr. Speaker, whether it is proper for a Member to raise as a point of order the unsatisfactory nature of a reply when the reply given was a direct answer to the question which was asked?

I cannot judge that. That must rest with the hon. Member himself. What may appear to one hon. Member to be a satisfactory reply may be unsatisfactory to someone else. I cannot rule on that as a point of order.

Ministry Of Pensions

Disability Pensions

38.

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he will discontinue the practice, where a pensions appeal tribunal decides that an individual's disability is attributable to service in the Armed Forces, to pay pension only from the date of the appeal and not from the date when the disability led to the discharge of the individual from the Forces.

Under the present rules a man who has succeeded in his appeal to a pensions appeal tribunal in respect of his invaliding disability is awarded pension from the date of his discharge from the Forces provided his representations to the Ministry regarding their failure to award him a pension were made within six months following his discharge; otherwise pension is normally paid from the date on which the first representations were made. My right hon. Friend does not consider that there are any grounds for altering these rules.

If I bring to the hon. Gentleman's notice a particular case, will he reconsider the matter from the rule point of view?

41.

asked the Minister of Pensions how many disability pensions are granted to ex-Service men on the ground that their disability was only aggravated by war service; and what proportion of these men were passed as Al on going into the Forces.

During the year ended 30th September, 1950, 4,567 first awards of disability pension were granted to ex-Service men on the ground that their disabilities were only aggravated by service. As regards the second part of the Question, I regret that precise information is not available and that it could not be obtained without a disproportionate expenditure of time and labour.

It Service men are passed into the Army completely fit medically, how can they ultimately be awarded a disability pension on the ground that any disability is only aggravated by war service?

In the large majority of these aggravated cases there is other reliable evidence to show that a disability existed, either before enlistment, or following military service, or that it was not due to service. When we bear in mind the probable and possible causes of these diseases, irrespective of service, the fact that we accept them as attributable in 70 per cent. of the cases, shows that we are very generously interpreting the Royal Warrant. But I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that there is a right of appeal to the pensions appeal tribunal against the Minister's decision that the disability is not attributable to service.

Is my hon. Friend aware that under present legislation in these cases the man gets his pension and the onus of proof against his application lies with the Minister? Is he also aware that to obtain that legislation many years of agitation were required in this House and the legislation was strenuously resisted by every previous Tory administration?

Personal Case

39.

asked the Minister of Pensions when the invalid chair sanctioned by him on 29th June to Mr. L. Harper, 48 Seymour Avenue, Tottenham, is likely to be delivered.

I am glad to inform the hon. Member that the chair has been despatched to Mr. Harper and should be delivered in a day or so.

Statistics (West Ham)

40.

asked the Minister of Pensions the number of persons in receipt of pensions from his Department, and the total amounts drawn at the last convenient date, showing the comparable figures at the first week in July, 1945, both nationally and for those recipients resident in the county borough of West Ham.

The number of pensions in payment by my Department was 980,000 on 1st July, 1945, and 1,028,000 on 1st October, 1950; the annual values of the pensions and allowances in payment on these dates were respectively £61,830,000 and £74,880,000. I regret that the corresponding figures for those pensioners resident in the county borough of West Ham are not available.

Poles (Pensions)

42.

asked the Minister of Pensions whether there is a special committee for deciding awards of pension to ex-members of the Polish Armed Forces; and what is its composition.

No, Sir. Awards of pensions to such persons are made by my right hon. Friend in the ordinary way, under the provisions of the Pensions (Polish Forces) Scheme, which came into force in 1947.

43.

asked the Minister of Pensions how many ex-members of the Polish Armed Forces or Polish Resettlement Corps and widows of such men are now in receipt of pensions; and what is the total annual cost.

On 30th September, 1950, 5,800 disabled ex-members of the Polish Forces or Resettlement Corps, 360 widows and 270 dependants were in receipt of pensions, the total annual value being £475,000.

Are precautions taken to ensure that those members of the Polish Resettlement Corps who joined the Corps at the end of hostilities do not qualify for pension?

Women's Royal Army Corps (Uniforms)

44.

asked the Secretary of State for War when the Women's Royal Army Corps will be completely re-equipped with their new uniforms.

I hope that issues of No. 1 dress to the Women's Royal Army Corps will be completed by the end of 1951 or, at latest, by early in 1952.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the new uniform is very much more becoming than the old?

Central Office Of Information (Speakers)

45.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he is aware that Major H. Hunter, a speaker from the Central Office of Information, expressed controversial political opinions at a conference in Cheltenham; and if he will take steps to ensure that Central Office of Information speakers do not undertake political propaganda on behalf of the Government.

I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend has had inquiries made. There is no evidence to support the suggestion that this lecturer expressed controversial political opinions. In reply to the second part of the hon. and gallant Member's Question, my right hon. Friend is satisfied that the present precautions are adequate.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my information comes from the "Co-operative News," and I shall be happy to send him a copy?

National Finance

Statutory Instrument No 1184

46.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether in view of S.I., 1950, No. 1184, having been made with retrospective purport without statutory sanction, he is satisfied that the instructions to Departments, contained in Treasury Circular F. 18924, of 21st June, 1946, paragraph 10, have been duly observed.

Will the Chancellor reconcile the statutory instrument with the circular which instructed Departments to see that subordinate legislation is not made with retrospective effect unless there is clear authority so to make it under the Act under which it is made?

My right hon. Friend informs me that he has been advised that his action in making this Order under the Foreign Settlements Act is perfectly in order.

Purchase Tax

47.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether in view of the rising prices of goods and the consequential automatic increase in Purchase Tax levied upon these, he will limit the rate of such tax to the value of the goods concerned at the time when they became liable to tax.

Under the law Purchase Tax is chargeable on the wholesale value at the time when the tax in respect of any particular consignment of goods becomes due. Apart from other considerations, it would not be practicable to assess value on the basis that the hon. Member apparently has in mind.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when Purchase Tax was introduced, Parliament never envisaged the rise in prices which has taken place and that, as a result of the high incidence of this tax, the revenue, for example, on piece goods, has been halved this year?

This is an ad valorem duty and, like other ad valorem duties, revenue increases when the taxes go up and decreases when they go down.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if the tax continues on the present level, it will not be long before it has a very adverse effect on our export trade?

50.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that the cost of post or carriage between wholesaler and retailer is added to the price of goods before the amount of Purchase Tax is calculated; and whether he will ensure that the price on which the percentage tax is calculated is the wholesale price only.

Under the law postal or other delivery charges have to be included when computing the value of goods for Purchase Tax. This provision was included in the Finance (No. 2) Act, 1940, because it was represented that most goods chargeable with the tax were sold on delivered terms and assessment on any other basis would have caused practical difficulties for the great majority of traders. I am advised that these considerations still apply.

Does the Chancellor realise that this does mean there is an arbitrary addition to prices in different parts of the country which bears rather more hardly on people who live in remote districts and, incidentally, adds to the cost of living?

I appreciate that that may be the case in remote districts, but, as the hon. Member will see, there are great practical difficulties in taking any other course.

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why certain items of protective equipment and clothing which employers are compelled to purchase for their employees are not subject to Purchase Tax while others, such as heavy foundry mitts, are subject to Purchase Tax.

With the exception of miners', quarrymen's and moulders' protective boots and miners' and quarrymen's protective helmets, which were exempted by the Finance (No. 2) Act, 1940, with the special object of encouraging their use, no non-utility protective clothing and equipment is specifically exempted from tax. Exemptions of this kind lead to discrimination between one kind of worker and another and it has for this reason been decided not to extend them. A general exemption for all protective clothing is unfortunately quite impracticable.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer really mean that the Government are prepared to give to a nationalised industry concessions which they are not prepared to give to private employers?

No. Sir. It means exactly what it says, namely, that it was considered desirable in 1940, by the then Government, to encourage the use of this particular protection.

When the Chancellor says it is quite impracticable, does he mean because of difficulties about identification or because of the cost?

64.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what extent he estimates that the increase in the yield of Purchase Tax during the current financial year is the result of the rise in price of goods subject to that tax.

The revenue from Purchase Tax amounted to approximately £292 million in 1949–50. Allowing for the changes introduced in the Finance Act, including in particular the application of Purchase Tax to commercial vehicles' chassis, the estimated yield for 1950–51 is £300 million. So far receipts are broadly in line with expectation.

The yield from Purchase Tax is, of course, affected by many other factors, including changes in the quantities of goods paying tax, as well as by changes in price, and it is therefore quite impossible to identify the effects of the latter alone.

Is not it important that, when the House has almost no control over the imposition of Purchase Tax, because it is not debated during the Budget debates, some formula should be discovered for stopping the proportional increases which amount almost to proportional misrepresentation of the will of the House?

There is no evidence, in the first place, that there has been a substantial increase of revenue from Purchase Tax on this account. As I explained earlier, this is precisely the same as with any ad valorem duty.

Diplomatic Corps (Motor Cars)

48.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his regulations enable members of the British Diplomatic Corps serving abroad to purchase British cars for their own use free of Purchase Tax.

Yes, Sir. Members of the Diplomatic Corps serving abroad are in the same position in this matter as any other British citizen living abroad.

In view of that, will the Chancellor do his best to discourage individuals serving with the Diplomatic Corps from using American cars?

I am not aware that they are using American cars to any extent, but, if the hon. Member will give the figures, I will look into them.

Economic Situation (Information)

49.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of the statement contained in paragraph 30 of Command Paper No. 7572 to the effect that the difficulties of the present economic position do not present themselves in an obvious form to the British public, what fresh steps he proposes to take to remedy this situation.

The statement to which the hon. Member refers was made in a Command Paper issued nearly two years ago. The hon. Member will no doubt recall that it was also stated in the two succeeding paragraphs of this Paper that the policy of His Majesty's Government was to give the people of this country at all times the fullest information about the economic position and to impress upon them the need for a high level of production. That is still our policy.

Would the Chancellor agree that the economic position today is as grave as it was two years ago when this warning was issued? If he agrees, does he not think that further steps should be taken to bring its gravity home to our people?

I have an impression that the speech I made on Sunday did not exactly lack frankness.

Egyptian Sterling Balances

52 and 53.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) the total of the sterling balances outstanding to the Egyptian Government at the end of the Japanese war:

(2) the total amount of sterling balances released to the Egyptian Government since the end of the Japanese war to the latest convenient date.

I will, with the permission of the hon. and gallant Member, answer these two Questions together.

On a point of order. These two Questions are very different. May I have a separate answer to each of them?

I will give the answer, and when the hon. and gallant Member has heard it, he will perhaps tell me whether he wishes me to repeat it.

As the House is aware, it is not our practice to disclose details of our sterling liabilities to individual countries. It has, however, been brought to my notice that figures of Egypt's sterling balances, which appear to have been secured from the National Bank of Egypt, have recently been published in the Press. These figures show that Egypt's total sterling balances on 31st December. 1945. amounted to £387 million, that between 31st December, 1947, and 30th September, 1950, her blocked balances fell by £81.8 million, and that her total balances on the latter date amounted to £272.2 million.

In thanking the Chancellor for that answer, may I ask him whether the fall he has mentioned in the sterling balances is entirely accounted for by the relaxations from those balances made under the Anglo-Egyptian financial agreements, or whether the balances have been drawn on from any other source whatever?

They have been made under the agreements with the Egyptian Government.

Can my right hon. Friend say how much, if any, of the released balances were used in the purchase of tanks and jet aircraft?

Will the Chancellor explain why it was he felt completely unable to give a similar answer to my similar Question yesterday?

On a point of order. When a Minister gives an answer, showing that certain moneys have been released, it is surely not irrelevant in those circumstances to ask what they were used for?

The Question on the Order Paper was a simple one about how much money has been released. If the hon. Member wishes to do so, he can put down a Question asking how the money has been spent.

If I may reply to the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), I would say that I was not aware of the Press release when the other Question was answered. I felt that in the circumstances we had better change our mind.

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will give an assurance that no further releases will be made by His Majesty's Government of sterling balances to the Egyptian Government until counter-claims have been entered by this country for services rendered by this country to Egypt during the recent war.

In view of the present attitude of the Egyptian Government, is the Chancellor still not willing to implement the policy of His Majesty's Government to enter these counter-claims? Surely this is the time to do it, in view of the statement by the Egyptian Government that they wish to reach a final settlement of these balances? What other opportunities has the right hon. Gentleman to do so?

I am about to begin negotiations on these balances, and I should prefer not to have my hands tied in advance by making any statement of that kind.

Surely His Majesty's Government's hands are tied. The Government have said that they will enter these counter-claims. Does the Chancellor now mean to implement the policy of the Government?

I cannot accept that it has ever been our policy to put in counterclaims.

Income Tax Forms

55.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has now reconsidered the proposal that Income Tax forms should show the yield of each tax per £ of revenue, and the way in which each £ of revenue is spent.

Yes, Sir. Arrangements have been made to include this information in summarised form in the notes which accompany Income Tax return forms.

In acknowledging this act of repentance, may I ask whether the Treasury will give the Press at the time of the Budget both the figures and the proposed diagrams, with their attractive piles of pennies of different heights?

Foreign Goods (Repairs, United Kingdom)

56.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will now announce any relaxation of the procedure in respect of articles sent from abroad for repair.

Relaxations in the Customs procedure for articles sent from abroad for repair and re-exportation have recently been introduced as an experimental measure.

Does the Chancellor agree that this useful contribution to the balance of trade ought to be encouraged, even at the risk of some very slight loss of revenue?

I prefer to see how this experiment works out before committing myself to anything further.

Coi (Housing Document)

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why the issue of "Talking Points," July-August, 1950, by the Speaker's Information Section, Central Office of Information, on the subject of housing, contains politically controversial matter; and whether he will take steps to prevent the issue of further political propaganda financed by public funds.

The subject of housing was chosen by the Women's Organisation Committee for Economic Information on which are represented the leading national women's voluntary organisations. I cannot agree that the treatment was other than factual and non-controversial, and the second part of the Question does not therefore arise.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in this document, paid for by public funds, and to be used by speakers who are paid from public funds, there is a statement that the high cost and low output of houses today as compared with pre-war is due to the inefficiency of the building industry? Is he aware that quite a number of people in this country think that the Minister of Health has something to with it?

The hon. Member is entitled to his opinions, but there is nothing in this document which he has quoted which shows that it is in any way biased.

Has the Chancellor read this document, and if he has done so, how can he fail to perceive that it contains political matter on a political question? The case for the Government is stated in the document, and it is fair that the case for the Opposition should be given.

I have read the document. I do not agree that it is in any way impartial. [Laughter.]