Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 486: debated on Monday 9 April 1951

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

House Of Commons

Monday, 9th April, 1951

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Lloyd's Bill Lords

Read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.

London County Council (General Powers) Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Saint Benet Cracechurch Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Canterbury Extension Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Dartmouth Harbour Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Coal Industry

Colliery Ventilation Fan (Stoppage)

1.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that, during the recent rescue operations at South Birtley, County Durham, the ventilating fan specially installed for the benefit of the entombed men was put out of action for 15 minutes by an electricity cut; and if he will take such steps as are necessary to prevent such occurrences in the future.

Yes, Sir. I will advise the managements of mines which, like South Birtley, normally rely on natural ventilation that, when electrically-driven fans are installed to deal with an emergency, they should warn their area electricity board not to cut the power.

Does this incident not illustrate the unpleasant consequences which can follow on electricity cuts? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman hasten the time when the electricity undertakings will be obliged to provide, as in former days they did, a continuous service, without interruptions?

If we had not had a war we should, of course, be farther forward. In this particular case no danger was involved, I am glad to say; and the power was restored immediately a telephone call was made.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been greater care for the miners since nationalisation?

Cleaning

3.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what percentage of coal was cleaned of dirt in 1947; and what is the position now.

In 1947, the percentage of coal cleaned either by mechanical means or by hand was about 78 per cent.; in 1950 it was 82 per cent.

Has the amount of dirt taken from coal since nationalisation been much greater than before nationalisation, and, when the pits were taken over, was there adequate cleansing machinery in the old pits?

Before nationalisation the cutting machinery had been increased much more rapidly than the cleansing machinery, and there is a backlog of mechanical cleaning plant to make up.

Would the right hon. Gentleman suggest to his hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) that he asks the housewives of Swindon whether they agree that their coal is cleaner?

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the passage in the Gas Council's Report which says that the low quality and dirtiness of the coal resulted in an extra million tons' consumption?

If the right hon. Gentleman had looked at the Order Paper he would have seen that there is a Question down about that.

Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how much of the 82 per cent. is mechanically cleaned?

Would my right hon. Friend answer the last part of my Question? Was the machinery for cleansing the coal adequate in the pits before nationalisation?

No. I have said it was not adequate because the cutting machinery had been increased much more rapidly than the cleansing machinery.

Quality (Complaints)

4.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power on what date he decided to place the responsibility for dealing with complaints of bad quality coal on the coal merchants rather than having complaints investigated through the industrial and domestic coal consumers' councils.

I have made no such decision. As I have explained in answer to earlier Questions by the hon. Lady, only the merchant who sells the coal can identity any consignment of which complaint may be made. A regular procedure for dealing with complaints has, therefore, been agreed between the National Coal Board, the Coal Merchants' Federation, and the Co-operative Movement, and I have no reason to think that it is not working well. But this procedure leaves it open to any consumer to complain to the appropriate consumers' council, if he fails to obtain satisfaction from the merchant who sold him the coal.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are no consumers' councils in the region I have in mind and that, in answer to all the letters that are written to him on this matter, he always puts forward the view that this is now the responsibility of the coal merchants? What is his constitutional authority for abandoning the procedure laid down under the Act?

I have not abandoned it. Any consumer is free to go to the consumers' councils at any time he likes.

If retail distribution had been nationalised, perhaps we might have had a different system which would have been better, but in view of the fact that it remains in the hands of 20,000 private merchants, I think that this is the best plan that we can have, and the merchants think so, too.

Is it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to nationalise the distributors in the near future?

Is the Minister aware that, under the Act, consumers' councils in the regions, on the authority of his own Parliamentary Secretary, in a recent letter to me, envisage the establishment of regional councils for the mining industry? Why has that not been put into effect?

I can establish regional councils if the hon. Lady can prove to me that it is desirable to do so. She has not yet done so.

7.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what compensation was asked for by a coal merchant in respect of bad quality coal supplied to an industrial undertaking, particulars of which have been supplied; and what compensation was paid.

I have not got the information, for which the hon. Lady asks; and bearing in mind that it concerns an individual transaction in the day-to-day business of the Board's administration, I do not think that it would be right for me to take the special steps that would be needed to obtain it.

If a merchant is dissatisfied with the compensation paid by the N.C.B., it is, of course, open to him to raise the matter, either through his trade association, or direct, with the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council. This would, of course, in no way prejudice any right he may have under his contract, which is enforceable in the courts.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that £110 was demanded and that the National Coal Board settled for £40; and that the coal merchant has written to me, as I happen to be his Parliamentary representative? Does not the right hon. Gentleman take any notice of Parliamentary representation on this matter?

Because the merchant did not get all that he claimed, that is not proof that the Coal Board were wrong. If the coal merchant had a grievance, he could have taken it to the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council, and since the hon. Lady desires that they should have more work she might have advised him to do so, instead of putting down a Question.

Has the Minister ever had any evidence that the consumers' councils have been of the slightest use to consumers.

Is the Minister aware that in "Labour Believes in Britain" it is said that the voice of the consumer should ring out loud and clear? What means have the consumers of making their voice heard?

They have the Industrial and Domestic Coal Consumers' Council, and they are also able to induce Members of Parliament to ask Questions, which, before nationalisation, they could not do.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some coal retailers find that if they make complaints they are victimised to the extent that their fuure supplies come through very slowly, if at all?

I have heard that suggested in the House, but I have never had any evidence whatever to support it. Indeed, if the Coal Board were foolish enough to try to withhold an allocation of coal from any merchant, the House Coal Scheme, which is run by the merchants themselves, would very soon take it up.

13.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he has examined the stones and rock submitted to him, respectively, by the hon. Members for Tynemouth and Kidderminster, as examples of numerous cases of dirt and deleterious matter contained in allocations of solid fuel supplied to householders as coal; what steps are to be taken to improve matters; and whether he will make a statement.

In view of the great labour involved, and other objections, I cannot undertake to answer in future Questions about such individual complaints as those which the hon. Members have drawn to my attention. But, since these two complaints have received wide publicity, I have made inquiries, and the results are as follow:

Mrs. Chapman of Hendon, who wrote to the hon. Member, received 5 cwt. of coal, which were part of a truck load of 10 tons 9 cwt. All this coal was sold and no other complaints about its quality were received. The merchant, having considered the matter, does not intend to take it up with the National Coal Board. I made special arrangements for a fuel inspector to see the 2 cwt. of this coal which still remained in Mrs. Chapman's possession; he found no stones or other deleterious matter.

Mrs. Hickson, who told the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) that she had received 28 lb. of stone and slag, informed my officer that she had collected this stone and slag from her grate over a period of three months; she said it was the residue of seven deliveries of one cwt. each; she admitted that the pieces of stone and slag were the inner core of large pieces of good coal. No blame can, therefore, be attached to the merchants or to the screen hands at the pit.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the punctilious and courteous way in which he has investigated these complaints, may I ask if he does not agree that there is cause for a good deal of dissatisfaction with the quality of household coal? Will he not therefore show a little mercy towards the participants and shareholders in his nationalised slate club?

I have always admitted to the House that, at present, with the greatly increased demand for coal due to full employment, we have to give some coal to the household coal market which is not as suitable as we could desire; but these cases show that the hon. Member is not justified in making the statements he makes in the House.

Would it not be very much better if genuine complaints about the quality of household coal were taken to the local fuel officers who, by and large, do very good work in dealing with complaints of this kind?

In view of what the right hon. Member has said about his attitude to future Questions on this subject, is he not aware that the local fuel officers are his officers and that he is responsible to the House when they fail to give satisfaction?

It is not part of the duty of the fuel officers to deal with complaints. The local fuel overseer advises the consumer to go to his merchant, who alone can deal with these complaints, because he alone can identify the coal.

Does the right hon. Gentleman really think he is right that old age pensioners, buying in very small quantities, should have to take a proportion of their bad coal up to the fuel office for it to be examined? Is he aware that it is only when Questions are asked that investigations are made?

I made great efforts last year to ensure that the quality of the coal should be improved. The merchants have admitted that it has been greatly improved, but I would add that in the past, as now, there has always been some dirty and poorer quality coal in the household market, which, in the old days, the poor had to buy, because they could not afford to pay the price of good coal.

In answer to a previous supplementary question, the right hon. Gentleman said that Members of Parliament could now address their complaints to his Department which they could not do in pre-nationalisation days. Does his statement mean that he has now gone back on that?

I said that in the old days Parliament could do nothing about the coal industry because it was in private hands. Parliament can now exercise a very great measure of control, and it does so.

How can Parliament exercise control when the right hon. Gentleman has just said that he will not consider individual complaints?

I have not said that I will not consider complaints. I have said that I cannot answer Questions about day-to-day administration.

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman gave an open invitation to the whole country to send him concrete evidence? Now we have done it, what is he complaining about?

I have never given any such invitation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Anyhow, I am not in the least complaining of anything the hon. Member has done.

15.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power details of the procedure to be followed when domestic consumers complain of dirt and deleterious matter in house coal allocations; what redress in cash and in kind the householder is entitled to seek from the coal merchant in such cases; and what redress the coal merchant can claim, commensurate in cash and in kind from the National Coal Board.

As I have frequently explained, individual complaints about the quality of coal should be settled between the buyer and seller. Consumers should address their complaints to their merchants, and it is for the merchants, in the ordinary way of business, to deal with these complaints according to the merits of the case. It is impracticable to specify in advance the precise form of redress which a merchant may be able to give to a consumer. This must obviously depend on the circumstances of each case.

In making their complaints to the N.C.B., merchants should follow the procedure which the Board and the trade have agreed upon; every merchant has been informed of this procedure, and knows what he should do.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that notwithstanding the fact that if a domestic consumer takes his complaint to a coal merchant, he rarely secures redress in cash or kind, because the coal merchant cannot secure commensurate redress in cash or kind from the Coal Board? Therefore, the Minister's statement this afternoon is worthless. What is he going to do about it?

What is the job of the fuel overseers if they do not deal with complaints?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put that Question down. It will be a very long answer.

How many coal merchants have been able to find any coal for their customers in respect of the complaints which they have had?

Will the Minister admit that very high prices are being charged for stone? Will he try to reduce the amount of stone in coal?

On a point of order. So far as I could hear, at least the last three Members who put supplementaries did so without being called. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am saying I did not hear them called. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), who was on his feet last, was not called so far as I could hear.

The hon. Member for West Fyfe (Mr. Hamilton) was very unobservant. Surely he must have seen that I was talking to the Foreign Secretary at the time and that Members got up although I did not call them. The hon. Member asked a supplementary question the other day. It was only throwing a brick across the Floor of the House, so I did not call him today for that reason. Once we start throwing the ball from one side to the other it continues to come back so that it becomes quite impossible for the Speaker to give a ruling. On that occasion the ball was kicked over to the Opposition side and came back very quickly, so I promptly called the next Question.

I neither had a ball nor a brick to throw across the Floor of the House, but I did rise to ask a supplementary question in the hope of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. However, three or four hon. Members on the other side got in without being called.

I was engaged for the moment. If the hon. Member wants to ask a supplementary question, let him get up and do so now.

We hear a lot about dirty coal, and I want to ask the Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Hon. Members opposite are wrong; it is not a speech. Is it not a fact that we are now hearing about dirty coal because in the days of private ownership the coal owners would not install cleaning machinery in the coalfields? Further, is it not a fact that the Coal Board, in the three years during which they have been in existence, have spent more money on cleaning plant than was spent in the 10 years before the war?

In view of the disgraceful replies to Questions Nos. 13 and 15 I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

I rather dissent from the expression "disgraceful replies." The usual formula is, "owing to the unsatisfactory replies." The word "disgraceful" casts imputations; "unsatisfactory" is the correct word.

Fuel Overseers

14.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the number of fuel overseers and their total annual cost in salaries and expenses.

There are 1,459 local fuel overseers, of whom more than 1,100 spend a part only of their time on their fuel duties. The local fuel overseers and their staffs are employed by local authorities, to whom the Government repay the costs reasonably incurred in the maintenance of the service. For this purpose, £920,000 is provided in my Department's Vote this year; £110,000 is provided, in the Votes of other Departments, for common services, such as office accommodation and stationery.

Is the Minister aware that in 1913, before these gentlemen were appointed and when there was hardly any mechanisation, this country produced 287 million tons of coal and exported about 94 million tons?

Yes, Sir, and the figures fell, under private enterprise, from 289 million in 1913 to 174 million in 1945.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether it is or is not part of the duty of local fuel officers to deal with the complaints of household consumers if such consumers do not obtain satisfaction from the coal merchant to whom they have taken their complaints in the first instance?

Production

8.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will give the coal production figures for the years 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1950, respectively.

The deep-mined production of coal during the last five years has been as follows: 1946, 181 million tons; 1947, 187 million tons; 1948, 197 million tons; 1949, 202.6 million tons; 1950, 204.1 million tons.

Is the Minister aware that these figures are evidence of a grand contribution by, and a great credit to, the miners?

Will the right hon. Gentleman circulate in HANSARD figures showing the extent to which production has fallen short of his Department's estimate?

Is the Minister aware that the 1950 figure for deep-mined coal is still 25 million tons less than in 1939?

Yes, but it is 30 million tons more than in 1945, when the Coal Board found the industry in chaos and faced with great difficulties.

Has my right hon. Friend yet received any reply from the miners to the good wishes and congratulations of the right hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)?

Is it not a fact that, with the same numbers employed and with far more mechanisation, we obtained less deep-mined coal in 1950 than in 1941 and can the Minister say why that is so?

1941 was the crisis of the war, and the miners worked more shifts then than in any other year, and certainly more than I should desire that they should work in any peace-time year. Moreover, the mechanisation since 1947, while considerable, is only beginning to touch the fringe of what is required.

Can the Minister say how the figures compare with those for the years after Waterloo?

Consumption

9.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the consumption of coal in Great Britain for the months of January, February and March in the years 1948, 1949 and 1950, respectively.

The total consumption of coal in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in the first quarter of each of the last three years was as follows: 1948, 52,600,000 tons; 1949, 54,900,000 tons; 1950, 55,950,000 tons.

Stocks, Eastern Region

11.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that merchants' reserve stocks of house coal in Norfolk and the other six counties of the Eastern Region now total only five days' supply; and what steps are being taken by his Department to bring the stocks up to a more adequate level.

Stocks of house coal always fall to a fairly low level at this time of year. The stocks in the Eastern Region have been rather lower than I could have wished, and there has, of course, been some reduction during the Easter weeks; but the current deliveries to merchants are being well maintained. Everything practicable will be done to build up satisfactory stocks during the summer months.

Is the Minister aware that the allocation to the Eastern counties is rather lower than it ought to be because his Ministry still work on certain tables which seem to show that the climate in that area is the same as in Torquay or Bournemouth? It is for that reason that the level of the stocks is of particular importance.

I will consider that, but I should like to point out that since 1st May the merchants have sold to their customers 74,000 tons more house coal than the year before.

I understood the Minister to say "current deliveries were being maintained." Would he explain what that means?

Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that he has already made arrangements to increase the supplies available for domestic issue during the forthcoming summer and winter?

Has the Minister been able to take steps to overcome the acute shortage of coal in Cornwall?

Drift Mines

20.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will inform the House how many drift coalmines are at present producing coal; and how many of these were developed in the first three months of 1951.

I have asked the National Coal Board to let me have the information which the hon. and gallant Member desires, and I will send it to him as soon as I can.

Does the Minister remember that four months ago in the House he said that one measure which would give relatively quick results was the opening of drift mines? Will he try to push on with it, because it does not appear that everything is being done?

The Coal Board have asked their divisions to do everything they can to press on with this matter.

Can my right hon. Friend say how many drift mines have been closed since nationalisation, for which we have to pay compensation and which are of no value to the nation?

Schuman Plan

23.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is taking to meet the threat to the British coal ex port trade consequent on the initialling of the Schuman Plan Treaty on 19th March last.

With respect, I do not accept the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion that the initialling of the Schuman Plan constitutes a threat to the British export trade in coal. In any case, the interim provisions annexed to the draft treaty provide that the High Authority shall forthwith start negotiations with other Governments, and in particular, with the Government of the United Kingdom about the general economic and commercial problems of coal and steel.

Does not the Minister consider that the formation of what practically amounts to a cartel in Europe is bound to cause anxiety? Before the signing of the treaty would he not carefully consider the effect that it is bound to have upon the coal export trade?

We are considering the implications now, and the negotiations which will take place.

Coal Board (Vacancy)

24.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power when the vacancy created by the death of Sir Arthur Street will be filled.

I hope to fill in the early future the vacancy on the Coal Board created by the lamented death of Sir Arthur Street; but I regret that I cannot yet give a definite date.

Supplies, Birmingham

25.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he has investigated the case of Mrs. Siviter of Leahouse Road, Birmingham, to which his attention was drawn on 12th March; how soon after having submitted a medical certificate she was supplied with coal; what representations were made to the Birmingham fuel overseer on her behalf; and what action was taken to deal with the complaint.

When, on 9th January, 1951, Mrs. Siviter presented to the local fuel overseer a medical certificate which was dated 6th November, 1950, it was found that she had a supply of coal in her house. She was advised that, if she were in danger of running out of coal, she should contact the local fuel overseer at once. The local fuel overseer was told on 29th March that Mrs. Siviter was without coal. He at once issued a priority certificate and it was honoured on 31st March, when a delivery of 6 cwt. was made.

Has the Minister seen a copy of the "Birmingham Mail" for Saturday last, 7th April, in which a grave reflection was made on the local fuel overseer in connection with this case? In view of the fact that this was the second report—the first being on 12th March—affecting one of my constituents, each report being totally untrue and false, is the Minister willing to take action to ensure that the public are properly informed in Birmingham and to deal with these abusive reports, especially as one was inspired by the right hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)?

I will consider what my hon. Friend says. I must say that I do regret that the right hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd) should have asserted that priority certificates had not been honoured without verifying the facts and, so far as I can discover, without consulting the local fuel overseer in the matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this lady informs me that she approached the local fuel overseer with a doctor's note in October, and in February, and that on one occasion her doctor also telephoned to the office? It is typical that it was only after the matter was raised in this House that she received the extra coal allocation.

All the facts are on record in the overseer's office, and if the right hon. Gentleman could make it convenient to go there he could see them for himself.

Is not the object of medical certificates to get an extra supply of coal into the house and not to create the possibility of a coal supply when the existing one has already run out?

I did not say when it ran out. The purpose of the certificate is to ensure that people are not without coal when they need it, and that is what happens.

Can the Minister instruct a local official to answer these reports, which have caused very grave concern among the people of Birmingham because of their untruthful nature?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that even graver concern has been caused by attempting to minimise genuine hardship?

No, Sir. Neither I nor my hon. Friends have attempted to minimise anything. The fact is that assertions that priority supplies are not honoured have always been proved to be untrue.

Fuel And Power

Electricity Authority (Offices)

2.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power for what reasons he authorised the construction of offices by the British Electricity Authority and its subordinate boards.

The British Electricity Authority and the area boards have had to re-organise and integrate the staffs of 561 separate undertakings. About 360 of these undertakings were municipally owned, and many members of the staffs were previously housed in town halls or council offices, which did not pass to the boards. Since vesting date, the electricity sent out has increased by almost 30 per cent., and half a million new consumers are connected every year. It is clear, therefore, that some construction and adaptation of office buildings has been required, if the efficiency of the service was to be maintained.

But did not the Electricity Authority take over a very large amount of office space from the previous electricity undertakings, and has the right hon. Gentleman ascertained from that body why it requires additional office space?

I have explained that the amount is very small. Since 1st January, 1950, I have authorised the expenditure of only £400,000 on new construction and adaptations [HON. MEMBERS: "Only."] which, in comparison with the immense services rendered to the nation, is very small.

Why did not the Minister transfer some of the large surplus of colliery offices which, according to the nationalised industry, have been rendered useless since nationalisation? What has the Minister done with those offices?

Would it not be better if there were fewer administrators in the Electricity Authority?

Gas Council

5.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if his attention has been called to paragraph 184 of the First Report of the Gas Council; and what steps he is taking to improve the quality of the coal delivered to the Gas Council.

Yes, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on 19th March.

Does the Minister realise that one nationalised industry inevitably causes losses to another and that the taxpayer or the consumer pays? That is one of the main reasons for the rise in the cost of living.

If the hon. Member will look at HANSARD for 19th March, he will see that the two main causes of the present difficulty are, first, that many of the best gas coal seams have been worked out, and, second, that the gas boards require seven million tons more coal than they did before the war.

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember Kipling saying:

"A servant, when he reigneth, throws the blame on someone else."?

6.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power on how many occasions he has referred matters to the Gas Council as mentioned in paragraph 15 of the First Report of the Council; and what were the subjects so referred.

I am in frequent touch with the Gas Council, not only on the matters on which the Act requires that consultation should take place, but also on other subjects on which consultation may serve a useful end.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he, as a theorist, will consult business men as often as possible?

Yes, Sir. I am in constant touch with the Gas Council, on which are very good business men.

Farms (Oil Storage)

12.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power, in view of the increasing dependence of farmers throughout the country on tractors requiring petrol, tractor vapourising oil and diesel oil, what steps he is taking to increase the storage capacity throughout the country; and whether, in view of the limitation of the tank capacity at the docks, steps will be taken to assist and facilitate the installation of tanks for a year's supply on farms using tractors throughout the country.

As the hon. Member is, I am sure, aware, the oil companies provide the bulk storage which they require to enable them to maintain their supplies to those who buy their oil. I am now considering measures to supplement their storage where, in case of a national emergency, extra capacity might be required. These measures will be designed to meet the needs of all essential users of oil, including farmers.

Does the Minister realise that in the event of a national emergency, owing to the fact that there are hardly any farm horses left, cultivation will be absolutely at a standstill if abundant supplies are not made available?

Yes, Sir, that is very much in my mind, and that is why I am considering supplementary storage.

Gas Main, Dorset

17.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what quantity of metal it is proposed to use in the scheme sub- mitted to him for laying a new gas main from the Sturminster Newton Gas Works to the Stalbridge Gas Works.

No scheme for laying a gas main from Sturminster Newton to Stalbridge has been submitted to me by the Southern Gas Board.

Materials And Equipment (Exports)

18.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power why he requested that changes should be made by the oil companies secretariat in the analysis of the value of orders placed by oil companies for materials and equipment exported from the United Kingdom; and whether he is aware that the 20 new categories do not permit of analysis into the three main categories of manufactured equipment, steel products and fabricated steel.

The changes in the classification of orders for equipment placed by the oil companies, to which my hon. Friend refers, were made at the request, not of my Department, but of the petroleum industry. They were intended to reduce the volume of work which falls on the oil companies materials secretariat, and they have, I understand, given general satisfaction.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask if he can say whether there was any pressure from the American companies on the British companies to change the system of analysis?

No, Sir. I never heard of any such pressure. It was the secretariat of the oil companies Materials Committee which asked for the change.

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that this system of analysing oil equipment and the volume of oil equipment does not give full credit to the magnificent job that is being done by British oil equipment producers and British manufacturers, who are now supplying about 80 per cent. of the equipment needed for the oil industry?

The Council of British Manufacturers of Petroleum Equipment have stated specifically that these categories—I am quoting their own words—

"provided a format likely to be more satisfactory for their purpose."

Domestic Heating

19.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether a greater heating value is obtained by the use of a gas cooker or an electric cooker.

My right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary, said in a written answer to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) on 15th February that the efficiency with which the potential heat of coal is delivered to a house as effective heat for warming a room is, in the form of gas, from 29 to 34 per cent., and in the form of electricity about 20 per cent. There are, however, great variations in the efficiency of gas and electric cookers, and in the way in which their owners use them; no precise quantitative comparison of their performance can, therefore, be made.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the gas and the electricity authorities are carrying out advertising campaigns both claiming the most efficient use of fuel, and that this is costing a great deal? Have these campaigns got his approval?

The promotional campaigns have stopped. But the replacement of existing equipment may sometimes be useful. A modern gas cooker uses 40 per cent. less gas than some of the older types still in use.

22.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if, in view of the fuel shortage, he will state which is the most economic method of domestic heating from the fuel point of view with regard to gas, electricity or grate burning.

In general, the most economic way of providing the main heating of a house or of hot water for domestic use in winter, is by means of solid fuel burnt in modern stoves. In a written answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) on 15th of February last, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave particulars of the relative efficiency of gas, electricity, coke and coal in the continuous heating of a room.

Fuel Saving Appliances

21.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he has considered offering to the public at a low price modern fuel-conserving grates and stoves, so as to economise in the use of solid fuel for domestic purposes.

As my hon. Friend no doubt recalls, there is no Purchase Tax on appliances which burn solid fuel. I am considering various other measures designed to encourage the public to replace old fashioned grates and stoves by modern and more efficient types.

Has my right hon. Friend calculated that we might save 10 million tons of coal a year if open fires could be replaced by modern grates or stoves? Would he consider introducing a Noel-Baker type of stove?

About one million improved appliances have been sold since the issuing of the Simon Report.

Is not the first step in this development to secure the co-operation of the local authorities to install stoves instead of open hearths?

Yes, Sir, and everything is done to ensure that they put in improved appliances. They are given special prices when they buy these appliances in bulk.

Food Supplies

Cider Industry (Sugar Allocation)

29.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is considering altering the basis of sugar allocation to the cider making trade, in view of the fact that the present allocation system penalises many of the most enterprising manufacturers.

My right hon. Friend has suggested to the industry certain modifications which should give some encouragement to the more enterprising manufacturers. We are, of course, ready to consider any views they may wish to express.

While I appreciate the personal interest which the Parliamentary Secretary has taken in this matter, may I ask, in view of the very real problems that these manufacturers and their employees are facing, whether the Minister can bring some pressure to bear on the manufacturers' association to make them take a more reasonable attitude?

As I have already indicated, discussions are proceeding. It would not be helpful for me to comment at this stage.

Canned Meat Prices

30.

asked the Minister of Food why, in view of the shortage of carcase meat in this country, he has refused to increase, since the issue in April, 1949, of the Meat Products Order, No. 782, the maximum prices for imported canned meats; and whether he realises that this policy is unnecessarily restricting the importation and consumption of meat.

As my right hon. Friend informed my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) on 14th March, he is already considering the whole question of canned meat prices.

Is that the best we can expect to hear? Is there no intention of increasing the price, to enable tinned meat to be imported at a time when there is such a shortage of carcase meat?

It is the best that the hon. Gentleman can expect to hear at the moment.

Can we be assured that if the Minister does lay such an order, the Opposition will not pray against it?

Canned Sprats

31.

asked the Minister of Food what is the total quantity of Danish and Dutch canned sprats which he has bought; how much he paid for them and what he estimates will be the loss owing to the reduction of their selling price from 1s. to 7½d. per tin.

We bought about 30 million tins. The prices ranged from 56s. to 61s. c.i.f. per case of 100 tins. Until stocks are cleared I cannot say what the financial result will be.

Mexican Tinned Beef

32.

asked the Minister of Food if the price of 1s. 8d. per pound paid for Mexican tinned beef in gravy is the cost of the net weight of the meat.

Did not the Minister try to ascertain what the liquid content of this pack was? Is not this another instance of buying a pig in a poke?

Farm Workers' Rations

33.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the fact that agricultural workers residing in agricultural workers' hostels receive about 1s. 9d. worth of meat a week, he will increase the meat ration for all agricultural workers to bring it into line with that supplied in these hostels.

No, Sir. Other farm workers have other allowances. Agricultural workers' hostels receive supplies of rationed foods on the same basis as hostels for workers in other heavy industries.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary ask his right hon. Friend to reconsider this question, in view of the great dissatisfaction caused among other agricultural workers who do not get so much meat?

Is the Minister aware that agricultural workers are working under very arduous conditions? While not begrudging, and, in fact, welcoming, the extra meat allowed to miners, may I ask whether there is any reason why the meat producers should not themselves be put on the same ration?

We are most appreciative of the efforts that agricultural workers are making. That is why we recently—over the weekend—announced concessions.

Is the Minister aware that agricultural workers are now working under better conditions than ever? While we are very desirous of doing everything to help agriculture, would he consider that in the country there are opportunities that are not available in the towns of getting added food?

Would the Parliamentary Secretary consult the Leader of the House to see whether we can have time to discuss the Motion on the meat ration which is on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White), and others, including myself?

Is the Minister aware that agricultural workers will take note of the reluctance of the Government to do anything for them?

Agricultural workers will be well aware that there is appropriate machinery for consultation on these matters, and also that every opportunity in these consultations is taken by the appropriate unions.

34.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will make arrangements for the agricultural workers' harvest and similar additional rations to be drawn in dividually this year rather than by the farmer in bulk.

The seasonal allowances to which the hon. Member refers are not extra rations for farm workers, but catering allowances for farmers to feed their workers on the job. A representative of the workers can collect these allowances if the farmer cannot do so.

Does not the Parliamentary Secretary recognise that the existing method of procurement of the rations is equally unpopular with both the farmer and the agricultural worker, and will he do something about it?

I am not so aware. As I have already indicated, there is ample opportunity for these matters to be discussed.

Will the hon. Gentleman consult the representatives of the farmers and the agricultural workers on this point and take their advice?

Sausages (Meat Content)

35.

asked the Minister of Food the minimum meat content required in beef sausages, assuming maxi mum amounts of vegetable fat and milk powder are substituted for meat in accordance with Statutory Instrument, 1951, No. 314.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary give the answer as a percentage as it appears that the 40 per cent. shown in the explanatory note is totally inadequate?

No, Sir. The hon. Member is confused. There is no direct relationship between the two figures.

Livestock Prices

36.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that Scottish butchers are convinced that the prices now paid for fat cattle and sheep vary too much from month to month and that a level price throughout the year would have the effect of creating more steady and regular supplies of beef and mutton on the market; if he has considered this view; and whether he proposes to make any adjustments in the present prices.

The suggestion that there should be a level price for fat cattle and sheep throughout the year has been considered on several occasions and rejected on the broad ground that it fails to take account of the varying costs of production at different seasons and would exaggerate the already pronounced autumn peak of marketings.

How long ago was that so? Is the Minister aware that today—not last year—butchers take a different view? Has he considered that new view?

As the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, these matters have recently been in the minds of those who are negotiating.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the only way he will get increased production of beef in this country is to encourage—and not discourage, as has been done—production off British pastures? Will he look into the question, as meat production in winter is quite uneconomical?

44.

asked the Minister of Food why in view of the dearth of butchers meat, his Department does not pay a remunerative price for fat calves, thereby making it economical for farmers to feed for veal production many of the bobby calves, totalling 660,000 a year, which are slaughtered at a few days old.

Will the Government take a decision quickly this spring while the calves are there and an increasing amount of milk is available to feed them?

We will not take a decision without fully discussing the matter with the National Farmers' Unions.

Can the hon. Gentleman help the agricultural industry by saying when he will arrive at a decision as the matter is a very urgent one for the farmers?

It would be quite wrong of me to give any indication during the discussions.

Bananas

38.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware of the concern at the derationing of bananas; and what additional supplies have been received or expected to enable their derationing.

I am not aware of any widely expressed concern at the lifting of the restrictions on the distribution of bananas. Bananas have no special nutritional value and plentiful supplies of many other fruits are now available. Gradually increasing quantities are being imported, but supplies may not always fully meet the demand.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the trade was very surprised that this action was taken? Mothers and very old people feel that bananas will be even scarcer than the well-publicised Webb sausages. If that is found to be so, will rationing be reimposed?

Is it not correct that bananas are a much less valuable food than home-produced apples?

Is the Ministry purchasing fewer bananas from Jamaica this year than last year?

In view of that, can the hon. Gentleman say why an order was published last week stating that only people over 70 or under 16 would be allowed to by them?

43.

asked the Minister of Food the result of his negotiations with Commonwealth countries for importing bananas; and whether there is any possibility of the present restrictions on the sale of bananas being lifted.

We have agreed to take 85 per cent., or more at seller's option, of Jamaica's exportable surplus of bananas up to the end of 1954. We have also contracted to take during 1951 the exportable surpluses from the British Cameroons and Sierra Leone and part of the Dominica supplies. The restrictions on the distribution of bananas were removed on 2nd April, but price control has been continued.

Schools (Meat Allowance)

40.

asked the Minister of Food what meat rations are allowed to boys at approved schools and at non-State residential schools, respectively; and what are the reasons for the difference in the rations.

The hon. Member is misinformed. Both types of schools are entitled to the domestic ration for each boy; and the further allowance made to all schools providing school meals.

Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us precisely what the rations are? That is what I am asking.

The rations are the domestic ration together with the allowance made to all schools providing school meals.

What is the allowance? That is what I want to know. My Question asks what they are getting, but the hon. Gentleman is not telling me.

Agenised Flour

41.

asked the Minister of Food whether his attention has been called to the statements made at an inquest at Hull recently regarding the effects of the agenisation of flour; and whether he will make a statement on the subject.

I am aware that certain allegations were made which were controverted by expert evidence at the inquest. Recently, a scientific committee reviewed the subject of flour improvers but was unable to find any evidence that agenised flour is in any way toxic to man.

Eggs (Pamphlet)

42.

asked the Minister of Food for what purpose the 3d. pamphlet "Egg Cookery" was issued by his Department; how many copies have been printed; and what are the sales to date.

To make available to those who want it advice on egg cookery; 25,000 copies were printed. About 9,000 copies have been sold since the booklet was published less than three weeks ago.

Is the Minister aware that this pamphlet tells housewives how to boil an egg, contains recipes which bear no relation to present day rations, and includes such sparkling phrases as:

"… it takes care to move preserved eggs from one house to another with the minimum of breakages"?
Is he also aware that the pamphlet says:
"Duck eggs should not be preserved by any means"
in contrast to Ministry of Agriculture leaflet No. 32 which gives instructions on how to preserve duck eggs? Does not this kind of publication bring the Ministry of Food into contempt?

—and if no reference had been made to the boiling of eggs the "Evening Standard" would have complained about the booklet being incomplete.

Korea (Campaign Medal)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a statement about campaign medals for British Forces in Korea.

45.

asked the Prime Minister when he proposes to announce the details of a Korean campaign medal and appropriate ribbon.

49.

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement regarding the issue of a cam- paign ribbon and medal to members of the Forces serving in Korea.

I have been asked to reply. I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave on 5th March to the hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir G. Harvie-Watt).

Was not the purport of that reply that it was too early yet to take a decision on the matter? Is that really right? This is clearly a campaign and British troops have been serving there for more than eight months, in the most arduous conditions. Would it not have a beneficial effect on the morale of British troops fighting in Korea, and British troops everywhere, if an early decision was reached and a campaign medal instituted?

The view which was expressed by my right hon. Friend was one which is customary in regard to these events, and he does not think that the time is yet ripe. In any case, this is a matter in which he takes a very personal interest and I should not like to deal with it in his absence.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Americans were given a campaign medal in December last? Surely, four months later, our men, who have been carrying out their duties there with great credit, are also entitled to be considered.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that such a campaign medal would give great encouragement and satisfaction to our troops, who have now been fighting there for more than six months? The Americans have already given a campaign medal.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the early consideration of this matter will not be allowed to interfere with the consideration of an important matter which equally affects the British Forces in Korea, namely, the nature of the Supreme Command under which they are serving?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very strong feeling on the subject among the troops concerned and those who are most interested in their welfare, and will he ask the Prime Minister to look into the matter as soon as he can?

Would not the Minister also agree that there is strong feeling that the best medal which could be given to some of these men would be to bring them back?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that in 1914 a medal was issued for a campaign within nine months of its commencement?

Railway Freight Charges (Increase)

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

90. Mr. BOYD-CARPENTER,—To ask the Minister of Transport if he will give an assurance that he will not exercise his powers under Section 82 of the Transport Act, so as to effect any further increase in railway freight charges until this House has had an opportunity to discuss such proposed increases.

93. Mr. PETER THORNEYCROFT,—To ask the Minister of Transport whether he has yet received any report from the Transport Tribunal upon their consideration of the proposed railway freight rate increase.