House Of Commons
Wednesday, 25th April, 1951
The House met at Half past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Trent River Board Bill (Changed From "River Trent Catchment Board Bill")
As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will consider recruiting Women's Royal Naval Service personnel for service in the United Kingdom only.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if W.R.N.S. personnel were recruited for this purpose a number of men who would otherwise be retained on Territorial establishment duties at home could be freed for more valuable work overseas?
I do not think that there is any point in placing any artificial restrictions on recruiting if we can get recruits who are prepared to serve anywhere.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty why modern torpedo sights are to be despatched to Egypt when neither the French nor other Western Union allies have such up-to-date sights.
No modern torpedo sights have been, or are being, despatched to Egypt.
Am I to understand, then, that they have been released for the Egyptian Government but are now being held? Does that indicate a change of policy on the part of the Government?
There has been no change of policy. None has been supplied.
Uniform Alterations (Grants)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will reconsider the grants to be made to naval Reserve officers for the alteration of distinction lace which only extend to one coat and one pair of shoulder straps.
The grants have been assessed on the cost of altering the garments included in the official scale of uniform.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that one monkey jacket is quite insufficient for an R.N.V.R. officer who has to do several drills a week during the year, and that R.N.V.R. officers who do not perform these weekly drills are getting grants for two jackets? Is not that an anomaly?
Yes, Sir. I take note of that point.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary allow a reasonable time to elapse during which those who report for duty in the stripes of the "Wavy Navy," the disappearance of which many of us regret, will not be regarded as improperly dressed?
The end of the year is the date fixed.
In view of the necessity for saving metal, will the hon. Gentleman consider not changing the R.N.V.R. buttons for the ordinary buttons, which is a great waste of money?
I prefer to take the opinion of naval officers on that.
Oil Reserves (Storage)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he is satisfied there are in reserve adequate stocks of oil for the Royal Navy and that the storage depots at home and overseas are adequately dispersed and protected against modern forms of air attack and the possibility of sabotage.
As stated in the recent debate on the Navy Estimates, provision is being made for stockpiling of oil, and all possible measures are being taken to bring reserves up to the level required under the re-armament programme. Projects are in hand for providing increased storage accommodation and for giving additional protection to oil storage from all forms of enemy activity.
In view of the very disquieting oil situation in the Middle East will the Navy see that alternative sources of supply are provided? Are modern methods of oil storage, such as underwater storage, being considered, as being more adequate methods of protection than those adopted in the past?
We are constantly keeping under review the question of oil supplies. In answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary, that matter also is under active consideration.
Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Board of Admiralty, under several Governments, have had a fine record in their efforts to accumulate large oil supplies, which are not only vital for the Navy, but are the main support of the whole petroleum situation of the United Kingdom, and that they deserve the support of all sections of the House?
Dockyard Workers (Retiring Age)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what action he is taking regarding the retiring age for workers in His Majesty's dockyards, in view of the fact that Portsmouth has over 3,500 unemployed.
By agreement with the trade union side of the Admiralty Industrial Council it has been the case for some time past that men may be retained in Admiralty industrial employment beyond the age of 65 if willing and if their services are required, but when a man approaching 65 wishes to continue at work the claims of suitable unemployed ex-dockyard employees are also considered.
Does not the Civil Lord appreciate that this will increase the unemployment at Portsmouth, which is already standing at 3,500, and will do nothing at all to ease the unemployment situation?
I cannot see that this will increase the number of unemployed there at all.
Is it not the case that if elderly people are retained in employment it causes a block at the top, stops promotion and results in unemployment for younger people?
There are plenty of people whom the Government desire should continue in work, and there are many who wish to do this. I would draw the hon. and gallant Member's attention to the fact that the figure which he quoted of the unemployed in Portsmouth has been gradually decreasing for the past few months.
Not fast enough.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty when the trials of the first anti-submarine frigate will be completed.
The first of the antisubmarine frigates to be converted from destroyers is expected to be in service by the autumn.
The Parliamentary Secretary says "in service." Does that mean that by that time he will have completed the trial, and that all the gear on board will have been tested?
Will the hon. Gentleman make it possible for Members of the House to see this ship?
I am not sure about this ship. That might be possible later, but I have hopes of arranging a programme of visits for hon. Members during the summer.
Mined Areas (Traffic)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he will reconsider the total prohibition of traffic through the Sturbridge and Gilkicker mining grounds, these being in waters which are exceptionally busy.
No, Sir. These areas are required for naval training. Craft which pass through them run considerable risks, and an announcement has recently been made in the "London Gazette" of 3rd April to remove any doubt about the legal position.
Does not the Parliamentary Secretary appreciate that a very large part of the traffic which is constantly going through these areas, with or without any prohibition being enforced, consists of vessels too small to own charts and possibly too ignorant to know about the prohibition? Would it not be more reasonable to relax the regulations for them?
I could not agree with that. These areas are very well known, and have been in existence for over 20 years. Small craft are likely to be local craft and, therefore, to know the area well.
Lane, Gosport (Upkeep)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty why he has allowed Foxbury Lane, Bridgemary, Gosport, for whose upkeep he is responsible, to deteriorate.
I assume that this Question relates to the portion of Foxbury Lane, Gosport, between the Foxbury gate of the R.N. aircraft repair yard and the Fareham—Gosport Road. This portion of Foxbury Lane is Admiralty property over which the owners and occupiers of the adjoining property, Foxbury Cottages, have a right of access. But the Admiralty are advised that they are under no legal obligation to keep the road in repair and, as they do not use it, they do not propose to spend public funds upon it.
Reserve Ships (Refits)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what is the principle according to which ships of the Reserve Fleet are selected for refit or for reconstruction, respectively.
Ships for refit take their turn according to the date they were last refitted. As regards reconstruction, priority is at present being given to the conversion of destroyers to escort vessels, although re-equipment of other vessels is also in hand.
Is it not a fact that some of these ships have actually been through somewhat expensive refits only, in the end, to be earmarked for stripping down the upper deck for conversion?
I could not say offhand, but it is certainly the case that practically every major ship in the Navy has been refitted in the last three years, so that it might be possible.
Would the Parliamentary Secretary say whether, in his refitting programme, he is using all the available yard capacity to the maximum?
Yes, Sir, I think that is certainly the case.
asked the Postmaster-General what developments are taking place in television wire broadcasting; and whether he will allow licences for this kind of service to operate in the areas that felt the full effect of his recent announcement in respect of the erection of the five low-power stations.
Several applications for these licences have been received, and I am proposing to meet representatives of the industry to discuss how far the development of relay services will fit in with the demands of the re-armament programme.
While appreciating the steps being taken by my right hon. Friend, may I ask if he will give an assurance that when he meets the promoters of television wire broadcasting he will give serious consideration to their point of view?
Yes, Sir, but I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that the re-armament programme must come first.
Interference, North-West Area
asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that television reception in the North-West area is subject to interference owing to defective pylons; and what steps he is proposing to take to remedy this matter.
I am aware that interference with television reception is caused, from time to time, by electricity supply lines. Interference with television reception in North-West England should, however, be appreciably reduced when the Holme Moss station commences operation.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, meanwhile, it is practically impossible for people over a very wide industrial area in the North-West to receive television programmes at all for a considerable part of the time that the programme is running? Cannot he do something about it now?
The difficulty is that the area to which the hon. Gentleman refers is outside the viewing area. It was never intended that the present transmitter should cover that area. The Holme Moss station, when it comes into operation, will meet the needs of the area concerned.
When will the Holme Moss station start to operate?
Some time during this year.
Telephone Lines (Experiments)
asked the Postmaster-General why no practical use is being made of the researches conducted by his Department to enable sound and television broadcasts to be available through the telephone line system to telephone subscribers.
The experiments have not proceeded beyond the laboratory stage, and a system for conveying television over telephone subscribers' lines has not yet been devised.
Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that this valuable research, which, I understand, has been developed to a practical basis, will not be discouraged or stifled merely because it will make expensive wireless sets unnecessary in the home market, thus fitting in with the Government's re-armament programme?
The thing is not yet practicable. The very great difficulty we might be in if it were practicable would be the amount of capital required to develop it.
Can the Minister give an estimate of the cost in each district which has felt the full effect of his recent announcement in respect of the erection of the five low-power stations, if they were served by this medium of a telephone wire broadcasting system?
My hon. Friend is mixing two things. One is television relay and the other is a telephone line system.
asked the Postmaster-General what is the least fraction of a minute which is counted and charged as a whole minute after the three minutes' signal during a telephone call; and whether he is satisfied that sufficient time is allowed to allow a subscriber to say goodbye and put down the receiver.
The signal is given 12 seconds before the end of each three-minute period. I am satisfied that this allows sufficient time to finish the call and replace the receiver.
Is the Postmaster-General aware that, in practice, a whole minute is frequently charged for, although the conversation only continues for a few seconds beyond the signal? Is there no machinery whereby the rule prescribed can be carried out in practice?
If the hon. and gallant Member will let me have evidence of that, I will certainly take up the matter.
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that when one is saying goodbye, time often passes much more quickly than one realises?
It all depends to whom one is saying goodbye.
If the Postmaster-General wants an example, may I ask him to look into a recent case where I was charged 7s. 4d. for speaking to Portugal for two seconds beyond the signal.
asked the Postmaster-General why, when a personal call is made from a pay-station, the operator cannot first ascertain whether there will be an answer from the number called before asking the subscriber to press button A, so as to obviate the present practice whereby, if the number is not obtainable, the personal fee has to be refunded to the subscriber by postal order.
On the great majority of calls a reply is obtained from the called number, and the present procedure avoids holding up the trunk line while the caller inserts the call charge in the coin-box.
Is it not possible for the 1s. 6d. pre-payment for a personal call to be put in the box but button A not to be pressed until the operator says that the number answers? Does the Minister appreciate that his answer does not meet my point?
I have discussed this with people very skilled in the operation of the telephone system. They have advised me they have looked at this idea but that it would cause a great deal of delay on the trunk system, on which we have the greatest pressure at present.
Shop, Leeds (Office)
asked the Postmaster-General if he will reconsider his refusal to allow a post office in the Quarry Hill flats, Leeds, particularly in view of the unique character of these flats and the fact that one of the shopkeepers is willing for his shop to be used as a post office.
Yes, in the exceptional circumstances; a vacancy for a sub-post office is being advertised.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer will give considerable satisfaction to the tenants of these flats, particularly to the old age pensioners?
Can the Minister tell us what is meant by "the unique character of these flats"?
It refers to the exceptional circumstances. This is a very large self-contained community, bounded by four main streets. There have been accidents there and I think that, in the circumstances, this facility should be provided.
asked the Post master-General if he is aware that the present letter rate of 2½d. for two ounces bears heavily on private per sons, business people and all other sections of the community who have occasion to write letters frequently; and whether, in view of the substantial surplus shown by the Post Office every year, he will now restore the penny post for two-ounce letters.
I regret that the loss of revenue involved would be quite prohibitive.
Although this Question was put down before the right hon. Gentleman's recent statement on increases, is it not a fact that the increase from the traditional penny post to 2½d. is one of the largest increases to which the public have been subject, although, admittedly, other Governments have also been responsible? Is it not also clear that the immense increase in the correspondence conducted by Government Departments means that the public are paying an increasing subsidy towards the carriage of official correspondence?
The cost of doing this has been estimated to be about £9 million. That is an amount of revenue which I cannot afford to lose.
asked the Postmaster-General what progress has been made by the body appointed by him to advise him on the subject of claims for recognition by staff associations in the Post Office; how many meetings have been held; and when he expects its report.
I understand that the Committee is now receiving and considering evidence from the parties concerned. I am unable to say when the Committee will report.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether all the gentlemen referred to in the answer of 15th February have taken part in the proceedings?
I think there is a further Question on the Order Paper on that matter.
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I asked if they had taken part in the proceedings. There is no Question about that.
They have not. Sir.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say who has not taken part?
If the hon. Gentleman waits until he hears the answer to a further Question on the Order Paper I am sure that he will be quite satisfied.
asked the Postmaster-General what changes have been made in the personnel of the committee appointed to inquire into recognition of Post Office staff associations.
There have been two changes in the Committee: Sir Maurice Holmes (Chairman) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) have been succeeded by Lord Terrington (Chairman) and Sir John Smith Boyd.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when this change took place and whether the two new members of the Committee have yet taken part in any of the sittings?
The two new members of the Committee have not yet taken part in the sittings. The Committee are endeavouring to arrange a meeting convenient for all members. The change of chairman took place last week and I think it is about three or four weeks ago that the other change took place.
Salaries And Wages
asked the Postmaster-General what is the average rate of increase of the level of salaries and wages in the Post Office above the level existing before the war.
Eighty per cent.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on 4th April he gave the figure as 180 per cent. and that although his public relations officer outside sought to correct that figure he has not corrected the figure the right hon. Gentleman gave?
The hon. Gentleman is very ill-informed on the matter. On 9th April there was a Question on the Order Paper and the answer on the 10th made this quite clear.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether that average is inflated by reason of the adjustment of wages following transfer to more valuable work in upper grades?
This represents exactly what it says. It says that there has been an 80 per cent. increase in the rates of wages.
asked the Postmaster-General when he expects to provide the sub-post office, Caerau, Ely, Cardiff.
As soon as a suitable candidate for the sub-postmastership can be obtained. There is one potential candidate in the field, but as my hon. Friend is aware her appointment is conditional on permission being given by the responsible planning authority for use of the candidate's premises as a sub-post office.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the local planning committee appears to be very awkward on this point? In view of the fact that this is a self-contained community will he not see that some sense of urgency is shown in this matter?
I am pressing the planning committee for their views
asked the Postmaster-General if he has yet received a reply to his third representation to the Roumanian Government concerning the radio interference on 285 metres by Bucharest II; and, if not, what action he is taking in the matter.
No reply has been received. In the absence of co-operation from the Roumanian Administration, there seems little hope that the interference will be eliminated. I am, however, making further representations to that Administration.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that this has been going on for six months, and that the Roumanian Government appears to be deliberately flouting him? What is he doing to get this matter put right?
The difficulty is that we have to depend on representations made to them. If they do not acceed to the representations, we would then have to consider what other steps we could take. It is not a matter over which we should declare war.
What action is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take? What is he going to do to make Roumania comply with her obligations?
I have already said that I have made representations. Roumania is a signatory of the Copenhagen Agreement and she will have to conform with the regulations laid down.
Why not reply by jamming some of the Roumanian broadcasting stations?
asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware of the interference in the British Broadcasting Corporation's wavelengths from five p.m. daily experienced in the North Lincolnshire area; and if he will have investigations made into this foreign jamming of regional programmes and take steps to put the matter right.
The interference from Russia continues. It has ceased from Spain. The Soviet Administration have intimated that they are studying ways of removing the interference.
Is the Minister aware that complaints have been made through the usual channels over the past few months about this matter, and that while in the North Lincolnshire area people can get the Third Programme they cannot get the regional programme? They much prefer the regional programme to the Third. Will he do his best to have this matter investigated?
I have asked the B.B.C. to look at this as closely as they can and to keep me advised about the steps which they can take to overcome this interference. Equally, we are pressing the Russians to let us have some action as a result of their study.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether Russian interference is the cause of the fact that half the Scottish Cup Final is not broadcast whereas the whole of the English Cup Final is broadcast? What action will he take to remedy this grievance in Scotland?
None until they play better football.
Royal Air Force
asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will determine the minimum amount to be paid to flying instructors at Reserve flying schools.
No, Sir. Flying instructors at Reserve flying schools are employees of private firms working under contract to the Air Ministry and the terms under which they serve is a matter for settlement between employer and employee.
Does not the Under-Secretary of State realise that these contracts go out to tender, and would it not be perfectly easy for his contracts departments to lay down a minimum rate of pay? Does he not realise that these men are receiving little more money than they were receiving before the war, and that by side-tracking the matter he is doing them an injustice?
I think the hon. and gallant Member has been misled in the whole matter. It was really to prevent any Government Department having to determine what are or are not fair wages that the fair wages clause was introduced by the Coalition Government. We are carrying out the policy that clause recommended and we are sticking to it because we are sure that it is only proper to do so.
I shall ask the pilots' unions to press their case as hard as possible to get justice.
I very much hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will do so.
Is my hon. Friend not aware that it is a job for the trade unions concerned and that the air pilots have very efficient trade unions for the purpose of settling these grievances?
asked the Secretary of State for Air how many officers of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve have volunteered to serve as flying instructors for a maximum period of 18 months.
So far 77 officers and nine N.C.O.s have indicated their willingness to serve as flying instructors.
Am I to understand that the number circulated is 200? How does the Minister propose to get the remainder? Will he offer further inducements to obtain the other 120?
We approached 300 people to start with and out of these 86 responded. We are now approaching the others. We hope we shall get them all as willing volunteers.
Can the Minister assure us that officers who have done some Reserve training will be recalled in a rank which will ensure that they are not penalised for having done this training as compared with officers retired with the same rank, who have done no training?
Does the Minister not think that it is the present rates of pay which are precluding a larger number of men volunteering for the job?
On the contrary, I believe that the civil firms are finding it very difficult to get instructors because the R.A.F. rates of pay are proving more attractive.
Aircrews (Meat Ration)
asked the Secretary of State for Air what scale of meat is issued to aircrew of the Royal Air Force in this country.
The daily scale for aircrew living in is 41/14 ounces. Aircrew who live out, like all other Service personnel in this country who live out, receive the same meat rations as civilians, but may buy meals in their mess or dining room. Both living in and living out aircrew, however, receive an additional 1⅙ ounces a day when doing night flying following normal daily duty.
Does not the Under-Secretary think this is quite an inadequate amount of meat for men who are flying at a speed near that of sound? Why should these men get less than those serving in the Merchant Service or on trawlers? In view of the high casualty rate of aircrew in jet aircraft will he make strenuous efforts to see that the men are properly fed? Is he aware that there is a view held—the Minister of Defence is laughing. Is he laughing at casualties in the Air Force?
Then let him take the smile off his face. Will the Under-Secretary review the matter because there is a widely held view that the ration is inadequate?
We should all like a little more meat and I have made my own inquiries into this matter. As a matter of fact, on the best estimate I can make, aircrews get a little more meat than miners. However, we review their supplies every year and if we can ensure extra supplies for them we will do so.
Is the Under-Secretary aware that in my humble opinion a man needs more meat to march 14 miles than to fly an aircraft?
Is the Minister aware that the merchant seamen's meat allowance is 4 lb. 11 oz. a week? Would it not be a good thing to make these two rations more equal?
The medical authorities in the Air Force are satisfied that the present ration is adequate.
If the medical authorities are satisfied, others are not. I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter again as soon as possible.
Tangmere Aerodrome (Limits)
asked the Secretary of State for Air when he is going to decide the future limits of Tangmere aerodrome.
The limits of the main runway and overshoot at Tangmere have now been settled and have been notified to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, who is consulting the highway authority on the provision of alternative routes for the highways affected.
Does the hon. Gentleman know that he has held up his right hon. Friend for about a year in this matter? Can he say when he arrived at the decision and whether it was before I put the Question down?
The decision was delayed owing to alterations in the specification on the part of Fighter Command.
Tiger Moth Aircraft
asked the Secretary of State for Air to what extent Royal Air Force pilots are trained on Tiger Moth aircraft.
Tiger Moths are not used for the training of regular Royal Air Force pilots in the United Kingdom or in Canada. They are still used for initial training in Rhodesia but are being replaced by Chipmunks. A few are still used by university air squadrons and a larger number by Reserve flying schools.
In view of that reply, would my hon. Friend make it emphatically clear that pilots training for the Royal Air Force are not trained on Tiger Moth aircraft—a fact which was given publicity in a report in a Sunday newspaper a fortnight ago—and that the only use for Tiger Moths is for people getting their hand in after having had long experience as operational flyers?
I hope that this answer will make it clear.
Atc Cadets (Scholarships)
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is satisfied that the air training scheme promoted by the Association of British Aero Clubs and Centres whereby selected Air Training Corps cadets are granted flying scholarships and trained by civil flying clubs has been instrumental in helping Royal Air Force recruitment; how many such cadets have qualified for a pilot's licence; and to what extent encouragement is proposed for the training of larger numbers.
My right hon. and learned Friend considers that the Air Ministry scheme for the training of selected Air Training Corps cadets at civil flying clubs is a great encouragement to these cadets to enter the Royal Air Force as aircrew and, as he stated in reply to the hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Mr. Heald) on 18th April, the number of scholarships to be awarded this year is being increased to 300. One hundred and thirty-seven cadets have so far successfully completed their training and have qualified for a private pilot's licence.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Association stated that the training of 750 cadets a year would be well within the immediate capacity of the clubs, and would he, in particular, give as much practical encouragement as he possibly can to the Leicester Aero Club, which is anxious to play its part in this important work?
I understand that the Leicester Aero Club have no airfield at the moment.
On a point of order. Would you ask the Minister if he will speak into the microphone. Sir, when answering questions put from back benches, so that we may all be able to hear?
Will my hon. Friend do what he can to assist the Leicester Aero Club to obtain a suitable airfield, so that they may be able to carry out the training which they are anxious to carry out?
Bombing Range, Heligoland
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is now in a position to fix a date for the final cessation of the bombardment of Heligoland; and when it will be possible to hand over the island to the native Frisian inhabitants.
A survey to find an alternative bombing range to Heligoland is in progress, but I cannot at present say whether it will be possible to bring a new range into use before March, 1952, which is the latest date by which Heligoland will be given up.
Does the hon. Gentleman not recollect the promise given by his right hon. and learned Friend, that if targets were placed at his disposal on other islands, the bombing would cease? I understand that those targets have been placed at his disposal by the German authorities.
No. There has not yet been agreement on any particular target. We hope we shall find one before the end of this year. As soon as we find one we shall stop using Heligoland.
Having regard to recent attempts at the plantation in Heligoland of persons of a persuasion other than that of the native Frisian inhabitants, may it not be necessary to partition Heligoland?
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that none of those Communists or others had anything whatever to do with Heligoland? Not a single one of them was a Frisian native.
asked the Prime Minister what progress has been made towards the appointment of a Press Council; and by whom the appointments are to be made.
I have been asked to reply. The Royal Commission proposed that the Press Council should be set up by the Press, and on 28th July, 1949, the House unanimously approved a Motion welcoming all possible action on the part of the Press to give effect to the Commission's conclusions and recommendations. The Press have not yet produced an agreed scheme, but I am sure that we all hope that it will not take them much longer to do so.
If it is decided to have such a Council will the right hon. Gentleman resist any proposals that lay members should be appointed by the heads of the judiciary, since the heads of the judiciary in England and Scotland might at some date become involved in their judicial capacities?
I think that is a matter on which we might very well wait until we see the scheme.
Could my right hon. Friend say whether any representation has been made to the Press to get on with this job?
I could not answer that.
Could it possibly be the "Tribune" that is holding up these negotiations?
Defence Equipment (Export)
asked the Minister of Defence whether he will state the countries to which he has agreed that naval, military and air supplies and equipment can be released; to what extent periodic reviews of these agreements take place; and on what date the last review was made.
Defence equipment not required by our own Forces, or by Commonwealth or North Atlantic Treaty countries, is made available to other friendly Powers provided it is in our strategic interest, and provided that no interference with our defence production programme is entailed. Very little is available at present, and each application is considered on its merits.
Are we continuing to release equipment to Egypt?
I answered a Question on this matter, I think, last week. We are sending some spare parts for aircraft which were previously delivered, and there may be some other small items, but no substantial items of equipment are being exported there.
Could the right hon. Gentleman assure us that this is a matter which is discussed with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, so that there can be no difference of opinion as to what is and what is not a friendly Power? If this is not done there may well be grounds for disagreement and we shall be providing ammunition for Communist propaganda.
As far as the North Atlantic countries are concerned, we consult with the North Atlantic Council and the appropriate committees. There are some countries which are regarded as friendly, but which are outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
What about the "Hunt" class destroyer? That is an article of equipment. Is that to be sent to Egypt?
There was a Question on the Order Paper the other day to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, and I thought that he gave a very full reply.
A very full reply, but a very unsatisfactory one.
As to whether it is unsatisfactory or not, surely that is a matter of opinion.
asked the Minister of Defence why leather half soles and top pieces in excellent condition are being disposed of as surplus by the Service Departments at a time when these items are being demanded by the Services from the manufacturers; and whether his attention has been drawn to a sale of leather half soles at No. 25 Maintenance Unit, Royal Air Force, which has been notified to the trade.
No serviceable stocks of these items have been offered for sale by the Service Departments in recent years. Of the items to be auctioned at No. 25 Maintenance Unit the leather heels and top pieces are unserviceable and of no use for boot repairing and the soles, which are not leather but composition, are of obsolete pattern; they have already been offered to and refused by the other Government Departments concerned.
Is the Minister aware that, apart from top pieces and half soles of leather, very large quantities of brand new khaki drill, made in 1950 and in perfect condition, are being sold in the shops as surplus? Is not this a gross waste of the taxpayers' money?
All I can say is that I have received assurances that any stocks disposed of as surplus are regarded by the Service Departments as of no use to them.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that we have made very frequent representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War about this? Is he aware that we are getting very disturbing reports about sales of new equipment? Will he look into this matter?
In view of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, I will certainly look into it.
If the pieces of leather are unserviceable is it not a sheer waste of money to offer them for sale and to incur the expense of advertising them to the trade?
They may be unserviceable for the Service Departments, but some civilians may find them very serviceable.
Small Arms (Calibre)
asked the Minister of Defence whether the decision to substitute a.280 automatic rifle for the.303 Short Lee-Enfield has been taken in consultation with the military authorities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and what information he has as to whether this weapon is to be a part of the equipment of the Forces of other European countries which are members of that Organisation.
His Majesty's Government have decided, after extensive trials, to adopt the.280-inch calibre for small arms for the British Forces in substitution for the.303-inch calibre which has been in use for the last 50 years. The adoption of this calibre makes possible the design of a light self-loading rifle which will more than double the maximum rate of a soldier's fire. Before reaching this decision, His Majesty's Government had full consultations with other North Atlantic Treaty Powers. The Standing Group has formally approved the.280-inch rifle as "militarily acceptable," but I have no information as to whether any other North Atlantic country has yet decided to follow our example.
What is the advantage in firing so many more rounds a minute?
I feel very much like consulting the person whom the bullets reach.
The problem is not the rate at which projectiles can be discharged, but the communications by which the supply of ammunition can be ensured to the people who are using the modern weapons. Will the right hon. Gentleman be careful not to waste money and effort on trying to create a new pattern of rifle when the other is quite good enough, as long as enough of them have been preserved, to do all the work which might lie before us in the future?
I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is desirable to effect improvements in our weapons, either by modernising existing weapons or by producing new weapons. I am informed that this rifle is perhaps the very best rifle which has yet been produced.
The Minister may recall that during the last war there were difficulties because the calibre of the American Service rifle and the calibre of our own rifle were slightly different. Is he satisfied that this change will not lead to similar difficulties?
To begin with, I am told that it reduces the load the soldier is required to carry, and that is an advantage in itself. It also has another advantage—it is cheaper to manufacture. There are certain technical advantages upon which, obviously, I cannot speak with any technical knowledge, but I am informed by the technicians and by military chiefs that it is a first-class weapon, and, of course, we wish to use first-class weapons if, unhappily, they are required to be used.
Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure that this rifle will be of the same common calibre as that of the other Atlantic Powers? That certainly would be a great advantage.
I certainly agree with with the right hon. Gentleman that if we can standardise our weapons all the better. It has obvious advantages. But these trials were very extensive and they were undertaken in consultation with other countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in particular the United States and Canada. We decided to adopt the rifle. Some of the other countries decided not to adopt it; they preferred another type of weapon. As for the rest of the countries concerned, they have not yet decided.
I must ask one more question, because this is important Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to give us an assurance that the running output, the current output, of the standard.303 rifle will not be checked or stopped in any way while these new improved types are coming into existence?
I will look into that, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House that my advice is that the present rifle, although it may have undergone some modifications, is the rifle which was in use during the Boer War.
That is all very well, but it was a good one, and we saved our lives by it.
Can we be told that there will not be a period when half the British infantry will be armed with one type of rifle and half with the other type of rifle?
Obviously, we shall not dispose of all the rifles we have in our possession until we have a sufficient quantity of the new weapons, and that, of course, will take some time. We are not proceeding with undue haste in the production——
We are proceeding with the necessary caution. I will certainly take account of what the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have said.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will not dispose of any.303 rifles until an adequate supply of new rifles is available?
I thought that was what I just said.
I did not hear.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is deplorable that in so simple a weapon as the rifle it has not been possible to arrive at standardisation among the North Atlantic Treaty Powers? In view of the importance of the question, will he consider making a full statement on the progress which has been made in standardisation, which, by all accounts, is negligible?
It is always deplorable when other people do not agree with the right hon. Member.
In view of the controversy among the experts about the value of rifles, would it not be better to continue the Four-Power Pact and not use them at all?
I will certainly take notice of what my hon. Friend says.
Service Widows (Pensions)
asked the Minister of Defence in view of the rise in prices since the last adjustment of the pension of service widows by the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1947, when he proposes to take further action to help these people.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble).
Since many people have their incomes increased according to the cost-of-living index, does he not feel that it is unjust that nothing has been done for these people? Will he look at the question again more sympathetically?
I have just looked at the reply given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It seemed to me a very full reply and I cannot go beyond that at this stage.
Did not the right hon. Gentleman indicate to the House the other day that he will shortly be making a statement to us on the question of Service pensions? Could not the question of widows' pensions be included therein?
I am sorry, but it cannot; it has to be considered in quite a different context.
Commonwealth (Atlantic Pact)
asked the Minister of Defence what arrangements he has made for consultations with Commonwealth Governments on matters of defence arising under the Atlantic Pact.
Close contact is constantly maintained with Commonwealth Governments on all matters of defence. No special arrangements have been made for matters arising from the North Atlantic Treaty.
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that he agreed to the appointment of an American as Supreme Commander of the Atlantic without consulting Australia or New Zealand? Is he aware that the fact that he has failed in this respect may well be partly responsible for our exclusion from the Pacific Pact?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. He has things all mixed up. I am sorry to say that to him, but I am telling him the truth. The fact is that the Commonwealth countries, apart from Canada, are not included in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I am asked a Question as to whether the Commonwealth Governments are consulted in all matters of defence. They are, in so far as matters relating to defence are their concern, and ours.
Is the Minister aware that all matters concerning defence in the North Atlantic affect the Southern Dominions as well, and vitally?
Of course. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right, but that is another point. That is not the Question. The Commonwealth countries are not unaware of what is going on.
Forgetting the past, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman for this assurance for the future in relation to all major appointments which take place under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation: that he will consult at least the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and other Commonwealth Governments, and try to get their agreement before he comes to any important decisions?
I am not quite sure whether the hon. Member asks me to forget my past or his, but I think the best thing to say is that I can leave this very important matter—I recognise the importance of it—in the very able hands of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is of the utmost importance that we should carry all the Commonwealth countries with us in any appointments made in the Atlantic, just as we should wish to be consulted by them in any appointments made in respect of the Pacific?
I would not go as far as that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] For reasons which I cannot explain by this means of question and answer. But I certainly agree that they ought to be made aware of what is going on, and they are made aware.
Has there been the slightest indication from any of the Commonwealth countries that they are at all displeased at not being consulted over this appointment?
They have made no complaints about what is going on. I ought to make it quite plain that there never can have been a time when the Commonwealth countries outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation were so well aware of what is going on in relation to matters of defence as they are now.
In view of the very great importance of this subject I beg to give notice that I shall raise it again at the earliest possible opportunity on the Adjournment.
Statutory Instruments Nos 606 And 607
asked the Minister of Food why Statutory Instruments, 1951, Nos. 606 and 607, were not published until four days after they had been laid on the Table of this House.
I do not think that this was an unreasonable period for printing, and it certainly conformed with normal practice. Both Orders were published in good time, before they came into operation.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these Orders had been laid on the Table of the House—and that, therefore, that much of the time for dealing with them had run out—four days before they were available to hon. Members? Is he further aware that they came into force within two days of being available to hon. Members? Is not delay of this sort a factor in reducing the control of the House over delegated legislation?
If there has been any unnecessary delay I should like to look into it, but I have looked into the matter, the question having been raised by the hon. Member, and I am satisfied that the practice was one that helped the House to have control over these proceedings. We laid the Order at the earliest possible moment, and the period for printing was not, I think, unreasonable.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that by this procedure he is reducing the statutory requirement of 40 days' notice to 36?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this really does affect the rights of the House? Will he inquire why it should have taken four days after the formal laying took place to print these Orders?
I will certainly do that. I am not responsible, of course, for printing the Orders. I thought my obligation was to make sure that the laying of the Order was carried out at the first possible moment; and that was done. If, later, there is some technical complication, I am not responsible, but I should like to look into it.
In looking into this matter, as he has been good enough to say he will do, will the right hon. Gentleman also look into his own earlier statement that this was the normal time between laying and printing?
Brussels Treaty Public Health Committee
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what are the present purposes and terms of reference of the Brussels Treaty Public Health Committee; what is its composition; who are the representatives of Great Britain thereon; what were the main subjects of the committee's recent session at Marseilles; and what are the major recommendations of this committee which have been implemented up to date.
This is one of several committees set up to consider the development on corresponding lines of the social services of the five countries, in accordance with Article II of the Brussels Treaty. Its members are administrative and medical officers of the health administrations of the five countries. At the meeting to which my hon. Friend refers the Committee discussed the control of foodstuffs and proprietary medicines and the protection of populations from the health point of view in war-time. The main recommendations of this Committee to have been put into effect so far are those for treating the five countries as a single territory for the health control of sea and air traffic.
United Nations (Korean Reconstruction Agency)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the proposed constitution of the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency; what funds are to be put at its disposal; what will be its scope and policy; and whether it will commence operations before the present conflict in Korea has ended.
A copy of the General Assembly resolution which created the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency and sets out the policy it should follow has been placed in the Library of the House. Twelve Governments have promised to contribute more than 200 million dollars during its first year. It has not yet been decided when the Agency's operations should begin.
Does not the Minister feel that this Agency should be put into operation forthwith, in view of the very great human need in Korea just now?