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Commons Chamber

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1952

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House Of Commons

Wednesday, 20th February, 1952

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Death Of King George Vi

Message Of Condolence

In addition to the messages of condolence which I read to the House yesterday, I have received from His Excellency the Irish Ambassador a copy of the following Resolution:

Resolution passed by Dáil Éireann at its meeting on 13th February, 1952

That Dáil Éireann extend its deep sympathy to the Royal Family, the Parliament and the people of Britain on the death of His Majesty King George VI.

No doubt the House would desire me to send a suitable reply to this message.

Private Business

British Transport Commission Bill (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Tomorrow.

City Of London (Guild Churches) Bill (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Monday next.

City Of London (Various Powers) Bill (By Order)

Read a Second time, and committed.

Company Of Watermen And Lightermen Bill (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Wednesday next.

Ealing Corporation Bill (By Order)

Essex Cowry Council Bill (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Tomorrow.

Fareham Urban District Council Bill (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Tuesday next.

Glamorgan County Council Bill (By Order)

London County Council (General Powers) Bill (By Order)

Read a second time, and committed.

North Wales Hydro-Electric Power Bill (By Order)

Rochester Corporation Bill (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Tuesday next.

West Hartlepool Extension Bill (By Order)

Second Reading deferred till Monday next.

Glasgow Corporation Order Confirmation Bill

"to confirm a Provisional Order under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936, relating to Glasgow Corporation," presented by Mr. James Stuart; and ordered (under Section 7 of the Act) to be considered To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 57.]


I should like to make a most sincere apology to the House. At Private Business time today, I made a mistake with regard to the City of London (Guild Churches) Bill and the West Hartlepool Extension Bill. I deferred them to next Friday, but under a Standing Order I am not able to do that. My excuse, if any, is that Private Business comes under one Public Business Standing Order which had escaped my attention. With the leave of the House, I should like to defer the two Bills mentioned to Monday next instead of Friday next.

I should like to know what happened about Private Business today. A number of Members objected to the Glamorgan County Council Bill, of whom I was one. Several Members around me objected, but you proceeded to put the Question that it be read a Second time. There was a good deal of noise and I turned to the hon. Member sitting next to me and said, "Is he putting the Question on the Glamorgan County Council Bill?" He said, "No," and, because of the noise—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"!] I do not know why my comments should give rise to hilarity. The point is that this Bill did, in fact, receive a Second Reading, though it had been objected to, and I want to know what remedy we have, because a number of us are considering the possibility of debating this Bill on Second Reading because of certain Clauses contained in it.

On a point of order. I took particular notice of what happened when the Glamorgan County Council Bill was called, and there was no objection at all.

I am perfectly certain that if I had heard any hon. Member object I would not have put the Question. The remedy which the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) had was to vote against the Bill when the Question was put, and I am afraid that at this stage there is nothing more I can do about it.

Further to that point of order. It is not competent to vote at that time because it is the time of non-contentious Business. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is Business which cannot be voted against. The difficulty was that there was so much noise from that end of the Chamber—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not know why hon. Members are not concerned about the conduct of Parliamentary Business. There was so much noise that many of us did not hear you put the Question, Mr. Speaker, and it is perfectly clear that several hon. Members said the word "Object."

I can only reply that I did not hear the word "Object." The remedy of the hon. Gentleman was to say "No." when I put the Question. If the hon. Gentleman did not hear me I must try to speak a little louder in future.

Oral Answers To Questions

Tyneside Shipyards (Steel Allocation)


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he will make a statement on steel allocations to Tyneside in order to ensure that the shipyards and ship-repairing yards are kept fully employed.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Sunderland North (Mr. F. Willey) on 4th February.

May I have an assurance that my hon. Friend appreciates the importance of maintaining shipping and ship-building as part of our national assets and that we shall never be faced with a shortage of steel for this essential industry?

I regret that I can give no assurance on his point, but I hope that the curtailment of the industry necessitated by the shortage of steel will be only temporary.

Telephone Service



asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he is aware that the Post Office expressed the view last year that the large waiting list for telephones in the county borough of Oldham would be substantially wiped out by the middle of 1952; and what effects the recent economy cuts on telephone installations and cables are likely to have with reference to the Oldham programme.

I hope that, with the additional plant now being provided, we shall be able to meet a high proportion of present outstanding applications by the end of 1952.

Whilst congratulating the Minister on the very able way in which he makes a disagreeable announcement, may I ask if that means that the promise will not be carried out and that Oldham is going to get a lot less than was promised by the Post Office a few months ago? Will that also apply throughout the country?

The hon. Member made a statement that a promise was made for the middle of 1952, but I can find no trace of that whatever.



asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he is aware that there is a lack of automatic equipment in the two telephone exchanges serving the central and northern parts of the city of Aberdeen; that Messrs. Siemens, Brothers, who are working on extensions of these exchanges, cannot complete them for about 18 months from now; that there is a long list of businessmen and others awaiting telephones there; and if he will expedite the work, so that these extensions can be completed earlier.

The extension of the North Exchange should be completed in August, 1952, and the Central Exchange in January, 1953. I am satisfied that the work is proceeding as quickly as possible.

Does the Assistant Postmaster-General realise that the absence of these telephones is impeding national production in the shipbuilding yards, and will he take some steps to expedite the completion of this telephone system?

I quite realise what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, but I can hold out no hope that these exchanges will be finished earlier than the dates which I have given him.

Stocking Farm Estate, Leicester


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he is aware that, despite requests by the residents of the Stocking Farm Estate, Leicester, no telephone kiosk has been installed on the estate; and if he will have one installed immediately, as there are no means at present of calling the police, the fire brigade or an ambulance in an emergency.

I hope to provide this soon after the new Belgrave Exchange is opened next May. An earlier date is not possible because of the shortage of equipment at the present exchange.

Is the Assistant Postmaster-General aware that there are some 2,500 people there, of whom about 1,500 are children, and that the nearest kiosk is about three-quarters of a mile away from the estate down at the bottom of a hill and barely accessible on any urgent occasion? Will he please press the matter forward?



asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what steps have been taken to restore telephone communication to the Orkneys; and what is the present position.

My hon. Friend no doubt refers to the hurricane which occurred on 14th and 15th January. Within a day groups of Post Office engineers with repair stores were flown to the Orkneys, and other staff and heavier equipment were sent out by ship. Repair work, in very bad weather conditions, went on continuously and I am glad to say that service was restored to all the Islands by 21st January and all subscribers' damaged lines were repaired by 4th February.

I should like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the ready help received from local air and shipping organisations.

Considering that some 60 exchanges were isolated and 2,000 subscribers' lines were affected, I feel sure the House will agree that this achievement reflects great credit on all who assisted in the work.

Is the Minister aware that the action of the Post Office has caused great satisfaction? Can he add to that assurance that their development work is not being held up?

I cannot yet give that assurance. The repair work that had to be done as a result of this hurricane is bound to affect to some extent development work in Scotland this year, but I cannot yet state the extent to which such work will be affected.



asked the Assistant Postmaster-General when the conversion of the Enfield telephone exchange from manual to automatic operation will be completed.

It is impossible to forecast, in view of present shortages, when it will be possible to convert the Enfield Exchange to automatic working. As the hon. Member is aware, the existing manual exchange at Enfield has been extended, increasing its capacity by nearly 1,000 lines and a further extension providing for about 1,600 lines will be made during the next 12 months.


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the number of applicants for telephone installation on the waiting list in Enfield and the net number connected since 1st January, 1946.

One thousand eight hundred and seventy-one applications are on the waiting list and 32 are being investigated. Exchange connections have increased by 2,811 net since 1st January, 1946.

In view of the large number of outstanding applicants, will not the Assistant Postmaster-General look once more into this matter of the conversion of the exchange? Two years ago I was given an undertaking that this matter would be examined, and nothing seems to have been done.

I can hold out no hope that this exchange will be converted to an automatic exchange in the near future.

Does the hon. Gentleman's reply mean that Enfield Exchange is to be permanently a manual one?

London Telephone Directory


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what arrangements are being made for the future issue of London telephone directories to people living in the Harrow Urban District Council area.

Shortage of paper has made it necessary, for the time being, to stop the supply of new issues of the London telephone directory to existing residential subscribers. Business subscribers and new subscribers will get the new issues as usual. This measure will result in substantial savings in money and paper, and my noble Friend feels confident of its ready acceptance by the public.

Does not the Minister realise that, as a result of this, many users of telephones will be out of touch with one another and that it is a most unsatisfactory arrangement? Further, is he aware that this arrangement was made without any warning to the subscribers concerned, and will he look into the matter?

Only last year a survey was made among residential subscribers who were asked whether or not they wanted more frequent issues of the directory, and 91 per cent. said that they did not. But any private subscriber who particularly wants a copy of the directory can ask for it.

Would it not have been better if the people of Harrow had voted Labour? They would have got a telephone directory then.

Wireless Licences (Old Age Pensioners)


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he will now take steps to enable old age pensioners to obtain wireless licences at a rate less than that charged to other citizens.

The Government regret that they are unable to give old age pensioners preferential treatment in this respect.

Has the Minister taken any trouble to inquire what the cost of this concession would be? Does he realise that this class of the community is very hardly hit by the present high cost of living?

Successive Governments have had reluctantly to come to the same conclusion in regard to granting any concession to old age pensioners.

In view of the fact that this Question has appeared so frequently on the Order Paper, does not the Assistant Postmaster-General think it about time the Government gave some sympathetic consideration to the plea put forward by old age pensioners?

Both this Government and the previous Government gave very careful consideration and sympathetic consideration to the matter but, for the reasons given in this House on many occasions, they have been unable to do anything about it.

Post Office

Christmas Mail


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the volume of mail dealt with by the Post Office at Christmas, 1951, compared with Christmas, 1950, and 1949.

During the Christmas period the estimated number of letters and parcels posted were:


While congratulating the service on the achievement, may I ask the Minister whether he will ensure that at periods of peak postal traffic the 2½d. letter will be given priority over the printed letter?

That is a different point to the one which my hon. and gallant Friend asked, but we have had no complaints this Christmas about late deliveries in particular of the 2½d. letters.

Does the Assistant Postmaster-General not consider that the decrease shown in the number of parcels and the increase in the number of letters indicates that people were very hard-up at Christmas, 1951?

If the hon. Lady wishes to take that as a criterion of being hard-up, she may note that the decrease in parcels in the previous year was even greater.

New Post Office Sites


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many sites, in addition to those already acquired, he has requested the Ministry of Works to obtain for the erection of post offices.


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many sites the Post Office at present possesses for the erection of Crown and branch offices; what is the estimated capital cost of the post offices it is proposed to erect on them; and the estimated annual cost of the maintenance and administration of such offices.

One hundred and twenty-two sites. The capital cost of the buildings to be erected on them will amount to about £6 million—spread over many years. The cost of maintenance and administration cannot yet be estimated, but my hon. and gallant Friend may rest assured that we shall pay careful regard to these costs before embarking on each scheme.

Is the Minister satisfied that this expansion of the system of Crown offices is really justified at present? Can the work not be left in the good hands of the sub-post offices, who do a good job in spite of not being awfully well remunerated?

That point is very carefully in our minds at present, but the Question which my hon. and gallant Friend asked was the number of sites that have been acquired. Some of those included in the figures I have given him were acquired before the war. I ask him to note the assurance I have given that we are not proceeding with these at present, except in so far as they have been started.

Is it a fact that the accommodation provided at a large number of these sub-offices is totally inadequate to meet the needs of the public and is certainly inadequate to meet the normal and reasonable standard of welfare required by the staff employed by the Post Office?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the things we should very much like to do now is to improve the standard of comfort in all post offices, many of which are out of date and were built many years ago.

Will the Assistant Postmaster-General take note of the emphasis I am placing on it in contradistinction to the emphasis being placed by the hon. and gallant Member?

Would it not be fairer to the sub-postmasters for them to be given greater remuneration and support so that they would be able to provide better facilities?

I do not think that a controversy as between Crown offices and sub-post offices really enters into this question.

New Stamps


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if, in considering new stamps for the new Reign, he will take into account the benefit to the trade and industry of Scotland and the profit to his own Department which would enure from an issue of special and individual designs in stamps for Scotland; and if he will therefore make such an issue accordingly.

No decision has yet been reached about new stamps; but as regards the possibility of a special issue for Scotland, I would refer the hon. and learned Member to the reply I gave him on 21st November last.

Does the Assistant Postmaster-General not realise that the granting at the present time of such new stamps to Scotland would be a gracious gesture to Scottish sentiment, especially in view of the anomalous position in regard to the Royal styles and titles in Scotland, and that he could do that with profit to the Post Office and with advantage to the Commonwealth?

I explained to the hon. and learned Member last November the difficulty of issuing a special stamp for Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom.

Sub-Office, Edgwarebury Lane


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what is the present cost of running the sub-office at Edgwarebury Lane under Crown Office management, and what was the cost of maintaining it as a sub-post office.

The cost of running this office temporarily on a Crown basis is £114 a month. The corresponding sum payable to a sub-postmaster would be £96 10s. a month.

Brownswood Park, Stoke Newington


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he is aware that, since the closing of the Brownswood Park sub-post office on 14th June, 1950, despite repeated representations, the Brownswood Park area of the Metropolitan Borough of Stoke Newington has been without suitable Post Office counter facilities; and what action he proposes to take in the matter.

I much regret the inconvenience caused by the closing of the Brownswood Park sub-post office. The intention is to re-open it as soon as a suitable candidate and premises can be found. Repeated advertisement has so far been unsuccessful. I will write to the hon. Member as soon as information is available.

Is the Minister aware that, by reason of the failure to supply these facilities, many people, including many old age pensioners, have suffered great inconvenience? Is not the last excuse given by the Department that they had the premises and the person to occupy them but that they had not got a trained assistant; and is it not rather disgraceful that, because a trained assistant is not available, the public should suffer in this way?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is misinformed. We intend to open this sub-post office as quickly as we can, and we should be grateful for any help which the hon. Gentleman can give us either in finding suitable premises or in getting someone who is prepared to do the job.

Is not the Minister aware that his own Department wrote a letter to the Town Clerk of the Borough of Stoke Newington on 7th November last, in which it was said that a suitable candidate for the vacant appointment of a sub-postmaster had been obtained but that until he was able to secure a trained assistant it would not unfortunately be possible for him to take up the appointment? In those circumstances, and as I understand that there is a pool of trained assistants, why cannot this matter go forward so that the people do not suffer?

I should be glad of any help which the hon. Gentleman could give in this matter. We are as keen as he is to put the situation right.

Does not the Minister's answer underline the fact that the remuneration offered to sub-postmasters is nothing like enough to attract people into this occupation?

Does not the Assistant Postmaster-General agree that this is just a case where conversion seems to be the only remedy if the people are not to suffer?

Employees (Sick Rate)


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the average sick-rate amongst Post Office employees for the year before Post Office employees came under the National Health Service administration; and what was the sick-rate figure for the last year for which figures exist since Post Office employees came under the National Health Service administration.

The average rates for non-disabled established staff were as follows:

in 1947, 11.6 days for males and 14.9 days for females;
in 1950, 13.4 days for males and 17.3 days for females.

Can the Minister state what effect on the Post Office staff situation this most disturbing increase in the sick-rate has had?

The increase in the sick-rate is certainly disturbing, and even more so in comparison with pre-war figures. If we could get the sickness rate down to what it was before the war, it would be possible to make an economy of 5,000 people in the Post Office service.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that these changing figures do not necessarily mean that more people are sick, but that before the National Health Service came into operation many people went on working when they ought to have stayed away because they could not afford to be sick and to pay the doctor?

That was certainly not true so far as the Post Office service was concerned.

Can my hon. Friend give the pre-war figures for comparison?

In 1938 the comparable figure for men was 8.1 days and for women 9.3 days.

I should like to ask two questions. First, how does the average sick-rate in the Post Office compare with the national figure in industry generally? Secondly, to what extent have war disabilities and the lower physical standard of recruiting affected the situation?

In reply to the first question, I must say that I do not know. The hon. Gentleman ought to put such a question to the Minister of Labour. On the second point, it is perhaps too early to say except that the general health of the Post Office service as reckoned from the death-rate or the number of retirements has fortunately not deteriorated.

Will the Assistant Postmaster-General exercise care to ensure that he is not casting an undeserved reflection on a most excellent body of people, in view of the fact that disablement on the part of applicants for jobs in the Post Office is one of the first considerations in employing them? We ought to keep that in mind.

I am not casting any aspersions on anybody. I think the whole House should be disturbed to find this increase in these figures, whatever may be the reason for it.

Scales (Inspection)


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General to what extent Post Office scales are examined by weights and measures inspectors.

As Crown property, Post Office weights and scales are exempt by statute from examination. The Post Office has, as a normal procedure, arrangements for the testing of its weights and scales by its own staff. Agreement has however been reached with the Board of Trade under which this regular inspection will in due course be supplemented by periodical visits by Inspectors of Weights and Measures. As an initial step all new weighing equipment is already subject to verification by the inspectors.

While I appreciate that small improvement, can my hon. Friend say why it is that these scales are not subject to exactly the same procedure as the scales of ordinary traders? Does he realise what inaccuracy there is in Post Office scales, and does he know that many people who have parcels for troops in the Far-East visit three or four post offices and leave the parcels at the one where the scales show the lowest charge?

We have no verification whatever of the last statement made by my hon. Friend. If he will let me have details I shall be only too glad to examine them. If anything, the Post Office's scales are inspected more regularly than the scales of most private businesses. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that, with the additional safeguards I have mentioned, customers will have very little to grumble about.

Would there not be much more of a safeguard if the Post Offices were fined if they have scales out of order, just like the ordinary trader?

Royal Air Force

Meteorological Information


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what arrangements are planned during the current year for the better development of obtaining and supplying stratospheric meteorological information in connection with the main Empire air routes.

The air terminals in the United Kingdom are already given more detailed information about meteorological conditions at high altitudes than is available anywhere else in the world. There are at present nine stations on the Empire air routes making regular observations up to a height of 60,000 feet, which are analysed and published by a special branch of the Meteorological Office. It is hoped that during 1952 several more stations will be set up along these routes.

Welford Aerodrome (Land Cultivation)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if, in view of the Government's decision to secure the utmost possible production of grain for this year's harvest, he will now authorise the continued cultivation of 200 acres between the runways on Welford Aerodrome, Berkshire, and give general instructions that all land held by the Air Ministry which can be spared for cropping shall immediately be offered to local farmers.

It is already the policy of the Air Ministry to make as much land as possible available for food production, and my noble Friend is at present seeking ways and means of increasing the yield. The airfield at Welford, however, is to be used as a storage depot, and it is planned to start preparing the site early this summer. This will, I am afraid, make it physically impossible for farmers to cultivate any of the land there.

If this airfield at Welford is only to be used for storage, is there any reason why the ground between the runways should not be cropped for the 1952 harvest?

The airfield will be used as an ammunition depot. Railway lines are being laid down criss-cross and concrete traverses are being put down. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is possible.

Will the Minister see if he can find a few acres instead of sterilising the whole of the airfield?

I am in sympathy with my hon. Friend's suggestion and will do what I can.

Can the Minister make sure that such acres as are not covered by works will at least be kept clean so that they will not distribute weeds over good agricultural land?

Maintenance Unit, Market Drayton


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he is aware of the wastage of manpower, machine tools and building materials, at No. 30 Maintenance Unit, Royal Air Force, near Market Drayton; and if he will take action to secure more economical employment of resources at this station.

I take it that the hon. Member has in mind the building being done at the unit. I will certainly look into any evidence of waste which the hon. Member sends me, but I should like to make it clear that this work is being done under a contract which was let after competitive tender. It is in the interest of the contractor to avoid waste.

Is the Minister really satisfied that the carrying out of this £80,000 contract is being properly supervised? Is he aware, for example, of the allegation of the burning of large quantities of linoleum and of men being kept idle for weeks? Will he cause his Department to make a strenuous investigation?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. I am not altogether satisfied with what is going on, and I noticed with interest the interview which the hon. Gentleman gave to a local paper on the subject. I also think that this scale of building work is very big. On the other hand, that was done by His late Majesty's advisers, and not by the present Government.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are many complaints from other depots in Staffordshire with regard to the wastage that is going on, and will he not ask his officers to make a special investigation into this matter, which is causing great public anxiety?

I am aware that there are a number of complaints, and the matter is under investigation.

Personal Case


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air why 2537878 A.C.2 Stanley Bewick, Royal Air Force, Credenhill, Hereford, with only eight weeks' National Service, and only five weeks' actual training, one of the youngest with the least training was selected against his own personal wishes when interrogated, and was given embarkation leave and informed he was to be posted to the Middle East.

This airman is over 18 years and 3 months of age and has completed more than 12 weeks' service. As the hon. Member has already been informed by my noble Friend, he is therefore eligible for posting to the Middle East in accordance with the rules announced in this House in December, 1950.

Is the Minister aware that the parents of this boy are very much disturbed about what has happened? Is he not aware that, when we permit these boys to be conscripted for two years, we expect that they will receive a fair crack of the whip, and that, when men are selected to go out to the Middle East, the parents of these boys expect that those with the longest service and training will be taken?

Will the Minister say what is the basis on which the selection is made, because my information indicates that the methods of selection are unsatisfactory and do not take due consideration of all the factors concerning each individual?

I am aware that parents are naturally very often unhappy when their sons are posted abroad. On the other hand, men join the Royal Air Force or are called up to it in order to serve their Queen and country, and the exigencies of the Services must have first call. This man was eligible to go, and a great many other men of the same age have gone and are going. There were no compassionate grounds for taking him off the draft.

Is it not the fact that in the same district there are many other men who are older and have had more training than this particular boy?

Obviously, we cannot arrange that all the young men should stay at home and all the older men should be sent abroad, because in that case we would not get personnel sorted out in the right order and categories.

Burma (Chinese Nationalist Troops)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the nature of the request he has received from the Burmese Government for assistance in removing the Kuomintang troops from Burmese soil; and what action he proposes to take.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action he has taken, following the official representations which have been made to him from the Government of Burma, in regard to the presence of Chinese Nationalist troops on its territory; and the despatch of arms from Formosa to these troops.

We have received no request or representations on this question from the Burmese Government.

As for the action which Her Majesty's Government propose, I would refer the hon. Members to the statement which my right hon. Friend made in his speech in this House on 5th February.

Will the Minister bear in mind that there is very little point in sending a U.N.O. Commission to Burma, because, first of all, the area in which these troops are situated is very inaccessible, and, secondly, there is no dispute whatever that there are Nationalist forces in Burma, which fact could not be established any more exactly than is now admitted; and that the solution of this matter is for the Nationalist troops to be removed, and that what is required is pressure from the Government of this country and the Government of the United States on the Nationalist authorities of Formosa to have the troops removed?

It is not for me to anticipate the answer which we shall, no doubt, in due course receive from the Burma Government on this matter. My right hon. Friend made it quite plain that, provided it was generally acceptable and that the Burma Government thought it was a good idea, we should participate and help in a fact-finding Commission.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman, whatever the technical character of any conversations which have taken place, whether it is not a fact that the leader of the Burmese Delegation in the First Political Committee of the United Nations, on 28th January, said that Kuomintang aggression was taking place in Burma and made a direct appeal to the British Government for action?

I have nothing to add to the answer I have given to the hon. Gentleman, which is to the effect that we have had no request or representations on this question from the Burma Government.

Japan (Ex-Prisoners Of War)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is now able to make a statement as to the setting up of a fund for former Far Eastern prisoners of war or their dependants under the Treaty of Peace with Japan.

No, Sir. No funds will be available to the International Committee of the Red Cross under Article 16 of the Japanese Peace Treaty until the Peace Treaty has come into force and Japan has transferred her assets in neutral and ex-enemy countries and in Germany and Austria to that Committee.

Japanese assets in the United Kingdom will likewise not become the property of Her Majesty's Government, under Article 14 of the Japanese Peace Treaty, until the Japanese Peace Treaty has come into force.

May we have an assurance that the Government will do all they possibly can to expedite the implementation of this scheme, and that it will not be held up unduly by legal discussions?

There will certainly be no delay as far as the Government are concerned, but it is, of course, a matter for other States to ratify the Japanese Peace Treaty before it can come into force.

Foreign Service (Missing Diplomats)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if his Department is still pursuing its inquiries into the unexplained disappearance of two members of its staff, namely Messrs. Burgess and Maclean; and what indications the evidence already in his possession regarding their movements gives as to their intended destination.

The investigation into the disappearance of Messrs. Maclean and Burgess is not yet closed. The only firm information about their movements so far obtained is that they disembarked at St. Malo on 26th May last, which, however, provides no real indication as to their destination.

Does not the existing information suggest that these men, like all fellow-travellers, were looking to the East?

Hungary (Mr Edgar Sanders)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will consider taking steps similar to those taken by the United States Government on behalf of their nationals in order to obtain the release of Mr. Edgar Sanders from his imprisonment in Hungary.

Her Majesty's Government will not neglect any practicable steps that may be open to them to secure Mr. Sanders' release, which they continue to regard as a major question affecting Anglo-Hungarian relations. But the release of the American citizen, Mr. Vogeler, was obtained in return for certain concessions by the United States Government which Her Majesty's Government have never been in a position to offer.

Will the Minister keep in mind the fact that the position at the present time is certainly most embarrassing, so far as this country is concerned, and that it places us in a position of apparent humiliation? Will he give the House a description of the concession which the Hungarians obtained from the United States of America and which we ourselves cannot give?

The main concession which the United States were able to offer in order to get Mr. Vogeler released consisted of the re-opening of the Hungarian Consulates in New York, and I think Cleveland, Ohio. These had previously been closed in January, 1950, in retaliation for the treatment of Mr. Vogeler by the Hungarian authorities, but there are, and have been, no Hungarian Consulates in this country which could be re-opened in return for a similar concession.

Nato Meeting, Lisbon


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the agenda for the meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Council in Lisbon this month.

The detailed agenda for the Council meeting will be decided by the Ministers concerned at the outset of the meeting, and it would not be proper for me to anticipate their decision. My right hon. Friend gave the House on 5th February a forecast of the principal matters which would be discussed, and which are likely to include the reorganisation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation machinery, the report of the Temporary Council Committee and the report of the Paris Conference on a European Defence Community.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that contrary to the desires of other members of N.A.T.O., the United States Government are pressing ahead with these negotiations with the Franco Government for military air and naval facilities in Spain without any assurance of the restoration of elementary freedom in that country, and would Her Majesty's Government take steps to see that this matter is put on the agenda at the Lisbon Conference?

That is a very much wider question. I am dealing with the agenda so far as it has been decided. I should like notice of the hon. Lady's supplementary question.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the extreme undesirability of entering into military relationship with Spain at the moment, especially in view of the execution of nine political prisoners there in the last few days? Will he give the House a firm assurance that the British Government do not approve of that kind of thing?

It has, I think, been frequently stated in this House that the British Government are not in favour of the inclusion of Spain in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the question of the association of any of the Powers in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation with the Franco Government is a matter for consideration by all the 12 Powers in that Organisation? Will he not, therefore, make efforts to see that this matter is put on the agenda as soon as possible and press it even more urgently in view of the atrocities which have been taking place in Spain during the last few days where innocent men have been sent to their death for political crimes?

In view of the complete callousness of the Government in this matter, give notice that I will do my best to raise it on the Adjournment.

Egypt (Dismissed British Officials)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many British officials dismissed by the Egyptian Government have now returned to this country; and how many have secured alternative employment.

Since former British employees in Egypt are private persons, they do not necessarily notify Her Majesty's Government of their arrival in this country nor of arrangements they may make for alternative employment. I cannot therefore provide the figures requested. Her Majesty's Government have, however, made arrangements to interview those who ask for assistance in obtaining employment, and are, as has already been stated in the House, doing their best to help. These arrangements are under the general control of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that we have a responsibility towards these officials, and that this information ought to be in the hands of the Government?

I certainly admit that we have a responsibility towards these officials, but I thought I explained in my answer that we cannot be informed as to who of these individuals, who are private persons, have come back and when?

Can my hon. Friend say how many of these former officials have returned to this country and are suffering in this way?

So far as I am aware we have not yet been notified of any who require the assistance to which I referred in my answer, but should we be so informed we shall take active steps to see that they are assisted.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the secretary of the association of these people resides in the constituency of the Minister of Labour, and will he therefore make inquiries of that Minister?

Nigeria Livestock Mission (Recommendation)


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if consideration of the recommendations of the Nigerian Livestock Mission has now been completed; and if he will state the decisions reached in agreement with the Nigerian Government.

I have not yet received a considered statement of their views on this matter from the Nigerian Government, who have been heavily engaged with the recent constitutional changes. I do not expect to receive them for some time. The problems involved are so large that some delay must, I fear, be condoned.


Hartwell Report


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what action has been taken in connection with the Hartwell Report about Kenya.

The Hartwell Committee was one of a number of committees which presented reports on various aspects of educational policy in Kenya. A general review of policy followed in which these reports were considered as a whole and not separately. The decisions which have since been taken have incorporated some of the measures recommended in the Hartwell Report.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an opportunity to discuss this report at an early date?

If the hon. Gentleman put down that question a little later on I might be able to give him a satisfactory answer. I have not yet received any definite information from the Kenya Government.

Trade Unions Bill


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what consultations have taken place between the Government and the trade unions in Kenya on the drafting of the Kenya Trade Unions Bill.

The Bill has been under consideration for the past two years by the Kenya Labour Advisory Board, on which there are employees' representatives. It was published on 8th January for public comment and copies were specially sent to the trade unions.

Will the Minister give consideration to the advisability of sending out to Kenya a few trade unionists in conjunction with the T.U.C. so that they may give advice to workers in this Colony?

The present situation is, I think, that public opinion is being formed upon this matter in the consultations which are taking place with various trade union leaders, and I do not at all exclude the possibility which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why the Kenya Trade Unions Bill include a provision that the secretary or treasurer of a trade union applying for registration must be literate in English; and if he will make representations, with a view to the deletion of this provision.

I am consulting the Governor of Kenya on this matter and will communicate with the hon. Member when I have received his reply.


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that the Kenya Trade Unions Bill lays down that all officers of registered trade unions must be actually engaged or employed in an occupation with which the union is concerned; and if he will make representations with a view to the deletion of this provision, thus leaving this matter within the competence of trade union rules.

The hon. Member's information is not quite correct. The requirement to which he refers is modified by a proviso giving discretionary powers to the Registrar of Trade Unions and the Member responsible for labour matters to permit persons not so qualified to hold office. The reply to the second part of the Question therefore is "No, Sir."

Will the Secretary of State for the Colonies place this Bill before the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Trade Unions for their comments and advice?

West Indies

British Honduras (Hurricane Fund)


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what part of the hurricane fund granted to British Honduras in 1931 is still outstanding; and whether this debt can now be cancelled in the interests of the Colony.

No part of the hurricane loan is outstanding. Outstanding capital and interest was remitted by His late Majesty's Government in 1949.

Pioneer Industries (Legislation)


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies which Colonies in the West Indies have now passed pioneer industries legislation; and to what extent the resultant legislation conforms to the standards he has required in this respect.

Laws to encourage new industries by the grant of Income Tax and Customs Duty concessions have been enacted in Barbados, British Guiana, British Honduras, Jamaica, Antigua, Montserrat, Trinidad and St. Lucia. No directions about the form of such legislation have been given to Colonial Governments.

Malaya (War Damage Commission)

42, 43 and 44.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) if the number of persons employed by the War Damage Commission, Kuala Lumpur; and the annual expenditure thereon for the year ended 31st December last;

(2) the average administrative cost involved in the settlement of claims for war damage already completed by the War Damage Commission, Kuala Lumpur;

(3) the number of claims for war damage lodged with the War Damage Commission, Kuala Lumpur; and how many of these claims have been settled.

Two hundred and ninety six persons are employed in the Federation of Malaya and Singapore, including 183 subordinate staff, at a total cost of £218,000 in 1951. Up to the end of 1951 administrative costs were 2 per cent. of the total value of awards assessed. About 200,000 claims have been lodged in Singapore and the Federation of Malaya Final awards have been assessed on 80,000 claims, on which divideneds between 30 per cent. and 60 per cent have, so far been paid.

Will the Minister give an undertaking that the investigation into these claims will be expedited as much as possible because many people in this country with claims outstanding in Malaya are very concerned at the delay in settlement?

I have already promised to see if I can accelerate the settlement of claims.

Will the Minister state how many claims have been submitted by tin and rubber companies whose offices are situated in this country?

No, Sir, I have not the information. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question.

In view of the fact that many of these claims have been outstanding for over 10 years and that both my right hon. Friend's predecessors promised they would accelerate their settlement, will my right hon. Friend see if he can do better than either of them?

Ministers' Overseas Visits (Travel Facilities)

45 and 46.

asked the Prime Minister (1) what regulations have been laid down to govern the acceptance of gifts and services from commercial undertakings to Ministers of the Crown in their capacity as Ministers; and what other gifts and services similar to that of the Cunard Company have been provided to him and the Foreign Secretary since the present Government assumed office;

(2) what estimate was made of the amount which would be payable by the Treasury to cover the expenses of himself and the Foreign Secretary previous to acceptance of the offer of the Cunard Company to provide free travel facilities to and from the United States of America.

No specific regulations have been laid down: but it is well understood that no Minister or public servant should accept gifts or services which would place him under an obligation to a commercial undertaking.

The cost of the two passages by me and one by my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary, which were given by the Cunard Company would, I am informed, have amounted at normal rates—that is to say, three passages—to £1,752. Some similar facilities were provided by the United States and Canadian railways.

The gifts and services of the Cunard Company as well as those of the United States and Canadian railways were not to Ministers but to the British taxpayers. I appreciate the courtesy and compliment implied in the action of the British, Canadian and United States bodies concerned. I cannot feel that there is anything discreditable in what happened, except perhaps the spirit that prompted the Questions.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the spirit that prompted the Questions was a zeal for public efficiency? Is he not aware that if he had been prompted by the same spirit he would have declined to accept this gift and would have informed the Cunard Company that if they wish to make a donation to relieve the British taxpayer there is nothing whatever to prevent their making an anonymous contribution to the Exchequer?

Apart from this particular incident, may I, on the question of principle, ask if the right hon. Gentleman can recall the case of the late Mr. Ramsay Macdonald many years ago when the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government or of the Opposition—at any rate a Member of this House? Mr. Macdonald was alleged to have received from Sir Alexander Grant a sum of money and a motor car, acts which were regarded by the Conservative Party as reprehensible. In these circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman make it abundantly clear that it is equally reprehensible for members of the Government to receive gifts of any kind, either from commercial undertakings or from private individuals?

It happened that the ship was delayed for a day and so I got the day's papers, which otherwise I should not have seen. I saw in those newspapers—in a certain class of them—elaborate accounts of the extraordinary luxury prevailing on board these liners which compete for world traffic with great advantages to us.

Knowing the kind of mood that is about in certain quarters, I proposed to pay all my own expenses for entertainment myself, apart from transportation, but when I made this proposal to the Company they brushed it aside and made this offer. I was not to be financially affected in any way, and I considered in the circumstances it was a public spirited action on their part and one which I was fully justified in approving. I may say there are precedents for Ministers accepting the hospitality of this company, but as they would carry me down to the depths prevailing in some quarters I will not attempt to call them to mind.

Will my right hon. Friend say how the figures he has just given compare with those of his predecessor when he chartered a Stratocruiser airliner, which took him and his staff to America and remained there for several days and brought him back at the market rate?

It is well-known that a special aeroplane for travel across the ocean is a very expensive thing, but the occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman had to go was one which was considered, most important and critical and good results followed therefrom, and I do not remember that anybody on the Opposition side of the House raised any questions of this character.

While not wishing to deter the right hon. Gentleman from accepting any properly offered hospitality, may I ask whether he does not think that Her Majesty's Prime Minister should be provide with adequate travelling facilities when on official business from funds voted by this House?

If there was a very strong sentiment that the money should be refunded to the company by the Exchequer I should be willing to consider that, but I really think the House would be behaving in an unwise way to insist upon that. There were luncheons and so forth given at which prominent members of the Front Bench opposite sat. Ought they not to have accepted those spontaneous offers of hospitality? I had no interest of any sort or kind in the matter.

Re-Armament Programme


asked the Prime Minister how far the actual expenditure on the re-armament programme for 1951–52 will fall short of the expenditure originally proposed.

I cannot give an exact figure, but the present indications are that expenditure will fall short by about £120 million of the £1,250 million which it was hoped it might be possible to spend in the current financial year.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that will mean that the programme will have to be extended over four or five years instead of the present three?

It will certainly take longer than three years, but we are going to have a debate on this subject next week.


asked the Prime Minister the extent of the shortfall in th0 re-armament programme, due to lack of materials and other causes, and the revised overall expenditure necessary to maintain the previously announced £4,700 million quantity of supplies, due to the decrease in the purchasing value of the £; and how far he intends to extend the period of fulfilment of this programme.

It is not at present possible to forecast over what precise period it will be necessary to spread production of all the equipment included in the original three-year programme, and therefore to estimate what is likely to be the total expenditure on defence during the revised period of the programme.

The White Paper on Defence Estimates and policy will be circulated tomorrow, and we hope there may be a debate on defence on the Thursday following.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that as soon as he has the facts and figures available he will make a statement to the House or give us an opportunity of putting a Question?

I hope the hon. Member may be fortunate in catching the eye of the Chair in the debate on defence.

I asked the Prime Minister a simple question. He said the facts and figures are not yet available. I am asking that when they are available he will either make a statement to the House or, through the usual channels, make arrangements for a suitable Question to be asked so that he can give the facts and figures to the House.

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this estimate includes the new expenditure likely to arise as a result of new policy on the discovery of the atom bomb?

I should be very sorry to put myself forward as seeking to deprive the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues of the credit that is due to them for the progress that has been made.

Can the Prime Minister say whether any estimate has been formed to show how much we will get for such money as we are able to spend as compared with what we could have got for the same money at the time when this re-armament programme was framed?

I think that is a very fair point to raise in the forthcoming debate.


asked the Prime Minister when he proposes to announce the revised expenditure on armaments to replace the late Government's programme of £4,700 million over three years.

The programme has not been replaced. On the contrary we are pressing forward with it to the best of our ability though inevitably it must now be spread over a somewhat longer period.

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that we should be more likely to get a greater quantity of effective units for a given sum of money spent if revision were planned ahead rather than a reduction left to the free play of material shortages?

280 Rifle


asked the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement, consequent upon his conversations in the United States of America, on the future of the.280 rifle.

As was indicated in the Communiqué which was issued after my talks in Washington on 9th January, neither we nor the United States consider it wise to take the important step of changing our rifles at the present time, and we shall both continue to rely upon rifles and ammunition which are now in stock or are being produced. Both countries will produce new rifles and ammunition on an experimental scale only, and this will apply to the production of the.280 rifle in the United Kingdom. Every effort will be made to produce a standard rifle and ammunition for all N.A.T.O. countries.

Does that mean that Her Majesty's Government have now abandoned the hope of persuading the Americans that our rifle is better than theirs?

British Legion Branch (Mr Speaker's Presidency)

May I raise a matter of which I have given you notice, Mr. Speaker? I understand that it has been the practice of Mr. Speaker to be the President of the House of Commons Branch of the British Legion. I also understand that a meeting of that body was held yesterday at which you were duly elected President; but a report appears in the Press which would seem to make you a party to actions by that body in urging increases of pensions on the Government and in sending a deputation to the Government.

I think one would realise that it is very wrong that the impression should get abroad of Mr. Speaker supporting or taking part in activities of this kind. Perhaps you would be good enough to make a statement in order to clarify the position?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman both for giving me notice of this matter and giving me an opportunity of removing any misunderstanding which may exist. I was asked to take the chair yesterday at a meeting of the re-constituted House of Commons Branch of the British Legion. The business was to elect office bearers for the year and to hear an address from the National Chairman of the Legion.

I was told that my predecessors in the past had acted similarly and had accepted the Presidency of the Branch. The meeting was attended by Members of all parties and the discussion was quite non-party. The officials elected were of both the main parties in equal numbers, each party proposing and seconding candidates of the other side, who were elected without opposition.

In accepting the office of President I made it clear that—to use my own words—I would be a singularly useless member because I could take no part in discussions. I took no part in the subsequent discussion and I expressed no opinions of any kind, confining myself strictly to the calling of members and putting the questions proposed.

It is customary for the Speaker to accept the presidency of certain nonparty organisations. One might instance the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Empire Parliamentary Union and so on, in addition to the British Legion, and he does that in order to emphasise the non-party character of the proceedings. I do not think anyone present at the meeting yesterday or at any similar meeting I have addressed would associate Mr. Speaker's opinion with any resolutions come to by the meeting.

I realise that that has been the position, but the fact, as understand it, was that at the meeting a decision was taken to send a deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to seek an increase in pensions. I would respectfully suggest that that should have been done at a meeting at which you, Sir, were not in the chair because, although this is a non-party organisation, there are a number of nonparty organisations of old age pensioners and ex-Service men who are engaged on pressing their claims on the Government, and while it is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, I suggest it should not have been done when you were there in the chair, as President, because of the strictly nonpolitical and non-party nature of this organisation.

On a point of order. Might I ask you, Sir, whether the comments on and criticisms of your conduct as Speaker should not—if it is thought right to bring them forward—be made the subject of a Motion placed in due form upon the Order Paper?

On that point of order. I did not offer any criticism of you, Sir. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman heard what I said. I criticise those who put this forward when you, Sir, were in the chair.

I would say to that, of course, that when I took the chair I did not know what resolution would be proposed; but I am bound to say that my own recollection of the meeting and its harmonious non-party character was such that I saw nothing very dreadful in a decision being come to to send the deputation to the Minister. There is nothing in that that commits one to policy one way or the other.

I do not think, myself, that I did anything wrong; but one has to be careful in these things, and perhaps we can dispose of the matter in that way. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is perfectly right in saying that if there is any desire to criticise my action in the matter, that can only be done by a substantive Motion.

Ballot For Notices Of Motion

Coal Utilisation (Efficiency)

I beg to give notice that, on Friday, 7th March, I shall call attention to the need to utilise coal to the best advantage and the failure of many users to adopt the most efficient method of fuel utilisation, and move a Resolution.


I beg to give notice that, on Friday, 7th March, I shall call attention to the necessity for a rising level of productivity as the only means of achieving full employment and a rising standard of living, and move a Resolution.

Incentive Payments

I beg to give notice that, on Friday, 7th March, I shall call attention to the desirability of encouraging a system of incentive payments in industry, and move a Resolution.

Disposal Of Uncollected Goods

3.42 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to authorise the disposal of goods left with shopkeepers for repair or other treatment but not collected; and for purposes connected therewith.
Until the matter was brought to my attention by the secretary of the Coventry Boot Trade Association, I had no idea that so many people left behind so many things. If we take the footwear industry to start with, the National Association state that their members today have at least 450,000 pairs of uncollected repairs on their shelves, and they estimate that these are worth at least £166,000 in labour and materials. Examples could be taken from all over the country. Last year there was a shop at Southend which had three sacks of uncollected repairs estimated at £400. In my own city, Coventry, today 24 traders are owed amounts varying from 25s. 6d. to £35, with an average of £13 11s. 2d. and a top figure of £100.

Various reasons are given for this non-collection of goods. Quite recently, a customer did not return for her child's shoes because the child had grown out of them. Going back a good deal further, some 23 years ago a shoe repairer in Rochdale had a pair of button boots brought in for repair and the unfortunate man still has them. The footwear repairing industry has always worked on a low margin of profit. It is essential therefore, that repairers should be paid for their work immediately. Today many small traders are running into debt because they have to purchase quantities of material and they are owed this money from customers who have not collected their goods.

During the past two months I have made it my business to go into various small shops and I have not found one boot repairing shop where the repairer had not uncollected repairs on his shelves.

This matter is not one that affects the footwear industry alone. Practically every jeweller in the country is faced with the problem of uncollected repairs. The National Association of Goldsmiths state that the position is that, as a bailee for reward, the retail jeweller is not entitled to sell goods left with him on trust. Indeed, only the other week a well-known watch and clock firm in London had a customer who came for a clock which it had held for 21 years. People leave tennis rackets behind after restringing, holiday makers' clothes are left uncollected and unpaid for at cleaners at holiday resorts long after the holidays are over, electric irons and radio sets are repaired in all good faith for the customer who just does not come back.

This Bill is an effort to remedy a position which is unfair to the trader. It is a general Bill, covering all repairers, supported by many trade associations and opposed by none, to our knowledge; it is a non-party Bill and is sponsored by both sides of the House. Legally, the position seems to be that where goods are left by a customer for repair, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary the property in those goods does not become the property of the repairer. Any attempt to dispose of the goods or to convert them to the repairer's own use would seem to be an unlawful act.

I know, of course, as do other hon. Members, that some traders print conditions on the back of receipts—conditions under which they are prepared to accept things for repair; but the general consensus of traders' opinion, and certainly of all the legal opinion which we have taken, is that those conditions are not enforceable as a result of their being printed. I have tried to find out the position from various trade associations. Each and all have informed me that their members are under no delusion and realise that if they dispose of goods after the expiration of the time limit on the back of those receipts, they are not immune from legal action.

Pawnbrokers, of course, can dispose of uncollected pledges. They are covered by the Pawnbrokers Acts of 1872 and 1922. Pledges of 10s. and under, if not redeemed within 12 months and seven days from the date of pledging, become the property of the pawnbroker. Pledges of 10s. and over, if not redeemed within 12 months and seven days of the date of pledging, may be sold by public auction by the pawnbroker. The House may be interested to know that within three years of the date of a sale the pawner may, on demand and on payment of a penny, see the books of the pawnbroker and receive any surplus produced by the sale.

The trade associations and the sponsors of the Bill have made every effort to safeguard both the trader and the customer. No goods may be sold under 12 months, and before they could be sold the repairer would have first to inform the customer that the goods were ready, and secondly, 12 months from that date, would have to inform the customer that the goods would be sold to defray the cost of the repair. It is suggested that the second communication should be by registered post as proof of postage. Records would be kept and the customer would be able to claim from the shopkeeper any surplus resulting from the sale. Equally, the shopkeeper would be able to claim from the customer any deficit resulting from the sale. I think this is fair. We have tried to make it so, and I hope the House will give leave for the Bill to be introduced.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. G. Lindgren, Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas, Mr. Robert Crouch, Mr. George Odey, Mr. Derek Walker-Smith and Miss Elaine Burton.

Disposal Of Uncollected Goods Bill

"to authorise the disposal of goods left with shopkeepers for repair or other treatment but not collected; and for purposes connected therewith," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 29th February, and to be printed. [Bill 56.]

Orders Of The Day

Agriculture (Fertilisers) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.50 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This short Bill carries out an undertaking which I gave to the House on 29th November last that I would ask Parliament to make the necessary provision for the fertiliser subsidy, the introduction of which I then announced. The House will recall that at that time some farm price adjustments were made arising out of the Special Review held under Section 2 of the Agriculture Act, 1947. This review was occasioned by an award of the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales; but, in addition to the increase in the wages of agricultural workers, the Government also agreed to consider an unexpectedly large increase in the price of fertilisers.

It had been estimated that the withdrawal of the second half of the war-time fertiliser subsidy on 1st July, 1951, would increase the farmers' bill for fertilisers by about £10 million—that is to say, if the fertiliser consumption remained at the same level during this year as during 1950 to 1951. This increase was taken into account in the Annual Review in the early months of 1951.

Following that Annual Review, steep and quite unexpected rises in freight rates and the costs of imported materials, combined with other higher costs, turned the estimated increase of £10 million into one of a little over £19 million. The increase was particularly heavy on phosphatic fertilisers, and on behalf of the Government I promised that the excess of just over £9 million would be dealt with separately by means which would more effectively encourage the proper use of fertilisers on crops and grass, and this was to be done through payments of contributions to farmers towards the cost of acquiring phosphatic fertilisers in the United Kingdom.

Further increases in the costs of fertilisers have recently been announced, and they were included in an Order made by the Minister of Materials which came into force on 1st February this year. These increases have been taken into account by the Agricultural Departments in considering the details of this particular subsidy. It is now estimated that the rise of just over £9 million, to which I referred in my statement in November, 1951, is now a shade over £10 million, and it is this figure which the Government had in mind in fixing the rates at which the new subsidy would be paid during the first year of operation, that is, the year starting on 1st July, 1951. I should like to remind the House, in connection with that calculation in regard to fertilisers, that the fertiliser year runs from 1st July of one year to 30th June in the following year.

It has been thought expedient in dealing with this problem, in drafting this Bill, to look beyond the implementation of the promise that was given in November last and to prepare a Measure which contains powers to enable—and I stress that word "enable"—should occasion arise, contributions to be made to farmers which would not be limited as regards the type of fertilisers. The Bill is so drafted that a fertiliser subsidy amounting to one-half of the cost of any or all fertilisers bought by farmers could be brought within the scope of a Statutory Instrument made in accordance with its terms, and with the approval of the Treasury.

At this point I must make it perfectly clear to the House that for the first fertiliser year that the subsidy will operate—the year extending from 1st July, 1951 to 30th June, 1952—it will be limited to phosphatic fertilisers, and the amount of the subsidy will be calculated on the basis of the £10 million increase in cost based on the 1950–51 usage which I have already mentioned to the House. The House will observe from the Bill that the powers taken in this Bill have a life of five years and expire on 30th June, 1956—

The Minister mentions the limitation to phosphates. However, the Bill itself does not make the limitation to phosphates. I think the Minister is giving the impression that it will. Am I right in saying that?

The hon. Member is perfectly right there. The first scheme which will be introduced as a result of the passage of this Bill will be limited to phosphates.

As I was saying, the House will observe that the powers taken in this Bill have a life of five years and expire on 30th June, 1956, unless they are extended for a period or periods by Statutory Instrument subject to affirmative Resolutions by both Houses of Parliament.

Here again, I wish to make it perfectly clear to the House that, while the Bill contemplates that these fertiliser subsidies may be continued up to 30th June, 1956, or even longer through the procedure of affirmative Resolution, nevertheless the Government have given no undertaking that the fertiliser subsidies will in fact continue for so long a period. The power thus taken is permissive, and what use is made of it will depend on the needs of agriculture and the prevailing financial circumstances during the next few years. I hope that I have made that position clear to the House.

The House will realise that, when I made the announcement last November, which was a result of the Special Review, to which both sides of the House were, I think, agreed in principle, I was dealing with the situation as we found it at that time, but when the Government found it was necessary to legislate, the only right and sensible course to take was to see that we took powers, with the approval of the House, to continue this kind of help to the agricultural industry, if the House, in its wisdom in due course of time, thought it was the right and proper thing to do. That is why we take these powers in this Bill.

During the last three years—I ask the House to mark this particular fact—the costs of fertilisers to farmers have almost doubled, and as a result, not surprisingly, many farmers today are ordering much smaller quantities. If this tendency is not checked—and I am quite certain that many of my hon. Friends in all parts of the House will agree with me in this—a reduction of crop yields will inevitably follow. I have enough faith in the farming community to trust them to realise that it is a false economy to cut down on fertilisers, and I believe that they will respond to the suggestion and the provisions of this Bill, which will materially assist them to buy the fertilisers that are so necessary if productivity is to be maintained and, indeed, increased.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has told us that the first scheme he introduces will be limited to phosphatic fertilisers, and yet he now says that he hopes that the Bill will encourage farmers to use more. Will he tell us what is the current supply of phosphatics against the present use of them?

I should not like to go into any great detail at this stage, other than to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the supply is adequate for the need that may arise for these particular manures. I can give him that very definite assurance.

Many hon. Members will remember the criticisms that were made in the House against the removal of the old fertiliser subsidy, which had maintained the price of fertilisers at a low and steady level for a number of years by means of subventions paid by the Board of Trade. The Government's proposal will provide a useful means of dealing with the fertiliser situation as circumstances change, and will allow assistance to be given from time to time when it may be most needed and where it will do most good in the way of increasing food production.

I turn now from the general principles to the immediate future. In regard to the immediate future, should the House, as I hope it will, give its approval to this Measure, a scheme will be laid before Parliament, without delay, as a Statutory Instrument setting out details of the contributions towards the cost incurred by farmers on buying phosphatic fertilisers, and indicating the amount of contributions which will be paid. It is our intention that payments should begin immediately thereafter. Meanwhile, farmers—I wish to emphasise this—should continue to preserve their receipted accounts for fertilisers, or, indeed, their accounts even though they are not receipted.

As from 1st July, 1951.

The Agricultural Departments will make the fertiliser subsidy scheme as straightforward and clear as possible, so that it can be readily understood by farmers and agricultural merchants alike. The scheme proposed for Great Britain will, for the first year at any rate, follow very closely the procedure of the lime subsidy scheme, which has been easily worked and readily understood by those for whose benefit it was devised.

Included in the scheme which we shall make will be a schedule giving in detail the rates of subsidy that will be paid in respect of each kind of phosphatic fertiliser, and, subject to the Statutory Instrument being accepted by Parliament, farmers can expect to receive a contribution amounting to nearly one-third of the cost of any purchases made since 1st July last of superphosphates and other phosphatic fertilisers.

Contributions will also be paid in respect of phosphates contained in compound fertilisers, except where that phospate element is wholly derived from organic material. I have with me a copy of the schedule, which is, of course, provisional until the Bill is passed and a Statutory Instrument is made, but I thought that the House might wish to have some examples of the actual subsidies which it is proposed to pay if hon. Members in their wisdom decide that the Bill shall go forward in its present form.

To give examples of what the actual effects will be: A ton of superphosphates costing £14 19s. would attract a subsidy of £4 17s., while a grade of basic slag at £6 8s. 6d. a ton would attract a subsidy of £2 2s. A ton of ground mineral phosphates costing £12 11s. would be subsidised to the extent of £4, and in the case of a compound fertiliser containing 12 per cent. P2 O5, in soluble form, the contribution would amount to £3 18s. per ton, whilst a national compound fertiliser containing 12 per cent. of P2 O5 partly soluble and partly insoluble, costing, at the present controlled price, £19 10s. 6d. a ton, would attract a subsidy of £3 9s.

I hope that the House will forgive me for giving these figures this afternoon, but I know that the agricultural community will be interested to have examples, and it will give an opportunity for the House to consider the effects of the Measure before we debate at a later stage the actual scheme; and it may, perhaps, facilitate the passage of the original scheme through the House, because I am very anxious that not only the Bill, but the first scheme, should be on the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.

I repeat that for the first fertiliser year beginning on 1st July last, the subsidy will be on phosphates only, while the contributions will be at the rate indicated in the schedule of the Statutory Instrument setting out the scheme, from which I have already quoted. I recognise, of course, that other fertilisers, especially nitrogen, are at least of equal importance, but the exceptional price rise that occurred in July last year, for which insufficient allowance was made at the previous Annual Review, affected phosphatic fertilisers very much more than either nitrogen or potash. The limitation of the subsidy to phosphates is designed to bring prices of the several fertilisers into something like their previous relationship.

The Bill is so short and simple that it is hardly necessary to deal with it Clause by Clause at this stage other than to say that Clause 1 provides power to make contributions to farmers towards their fertiliser purchases, Clause 2 prescribes the maximum rates of contribution, Clause 3 sets a limit to the period in respect of which the subsidy can be paid, and Clause 4 lays down supplementary provisions which may be included in any particular scheme.

The Bill extends to the United Kingdom, but under Clause 6, which I should like the House to note, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland may, if he so desires, produce a different scheme for Scotland, and a separate and different scheme may also be made for Northern Ireland. It is hoped that, in regard to England and Wales and Scotland, it will be possible, in order to avoid complications and difficulties to agricultural merchants and others who deal in fertilisers, to make joint schemes for these countries.

When my right hon. and gallant Friend talks of separate schemes for England and Scotland, is it contemplated that there will be separate schemes for England and Scotland during the fertiliser year 1951–52, because that would make a lot of difference to the producers?

Perhaps I did not make the position quite clear. I will repeat that it is hoped that, in regard to England and Wales and Scotland, it will be possible, in order to avoid complications, to make joint schemes for these countries.

Yes. To sum up the Bill, it is designed, first, to implement the undertaking which I gave to the House on behalf of the Government on 29th November, 1951, to ask for the necessary legislative authority for the subsidy on phosphates to which I then referred, and secondly, to place on the Statute Book a Measure sufficiently flexible to enable, subject to the approval of Parliament, schemes to be introduced which may be essential in the interest of maintaining the national food supply.

I believe that financial assistance towards the cost of the fertilisers they buy is a sound way of encouraging the adequate use of fertilisers by farmers, thereby ensuring high crop yields from the limited area of land in this country. May I emphasise that the ultimate beneficiary is the consumer, whose supplies of food would be diminished and costs increased if the use of fertilisers by farmers were restricted through excessively high prices.

I hope that this small but important Bill will commend itself to the House, that not only will it receive an unopposed Second Reading but that the House will be prepared to give early consideration to its further progress, so that it may receive the Royal Assent at an early date. The first scheme can then be considered in detail.

4.14 p.m.

The first thing that I ought to do is to congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman upon introducing his first Measure since becoming Minister of Agriculture. I am equally sure that the highly-complex nature of the Bill, and particularly the components of various fertilisers, has been made transparently clear to us by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this afternoon, but if not, it will be when we have had an opportunity of reading his speech tomorrow morning.

I should like to ease the Minister's mind at once by telling him that it is not our intention to divide the House against the Bill. It is possible that there may be different points of view on the wisdom or otherwise of this method of encouraging the industry, but it is true to say that a fertiliser subsidy in some form was in existence from 1937 to 1951; and I think that it was largely due to the price-fixing procedure of the 1947 Act, and possibly a desire to remove misunderstanding about the nature of some subsidies, that it was decided to abolish the fertiliser subsidy in two stages during 1950 and 1951, and add whatever the cost of the subsidy had been to the commodity prices under the first Schedule of the 1947 Act.

It therefore makes no difference whatever to the Treasury or to consumer prices whether we make this fertiliser payment or whether we increase prices to the extent of the same sum of money. I know that there were many doubts expressed when a decision was reached to remove the subsidy. It was first argued that if maximum production was really our aim, it was folly to remove the fertiliser subsidy. It was also urged that we knew that the subsidy was paid only on fertilisers used, whereas an addition to the prices of commodities of the same figure would give no guarantee that the fertilisers would be used, and certainly no guarantee that we would get the maximum output of the food which we require.

On the other hand, it was argued, not unnaturally, that farmers ought to be fully appreciative of the value of the use of fertilisers, and that, in fact, wise farmers would use fertilisers in any case. There is, surely, logic on both sides when we are thinking in terms not of two or three dozen large farmers but of anywhere between 360,000 and 370,000 farms of all types and sizes. The best farmer does and will use fertilisers because he knows and appreciates their full value, and because he always, or nearly always, has capital behind him.

There is, however, one thing upon which every hon. Member will be agreed; it is that we require the maximum production of food from our own soil. That certainly involves the use of the right quantity and the right quality of fertilisers at the right time. It has been said very often—and I do not want to go into this question of food production on a wide scale—that large, cheap, imported supplies of food are no longer available and will not be available for a very long time ahead. One only needs to think of the Argentine, where 50 years ago two-thirds of the population were engaged in agriculture, whereas today only one-third are so engaged. Industrial development means that there is more spending power in the hands of the multitude, and therefore they consume more of their own produce than they did before That means less for export.

We see a similar situation in Australia. As the population grows and industrialisation grows, agriculture becomes less and less primary, and they are unable to export the quantities of food which they did previously. We know that in India, Pakistan and some other countries the position is either more and better food or Communism Therefore, we must, as far as we possibly can, make the best use of our limited acres to get all the food we can from them.

As I understand this small but fairly important Bill, it does two things. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman truly said, it corrects an unforeseeable miscalculation of the price of fertilisers on 1st July, 1951. The calculation, of course, was made in the February Price Review, and therefore the blame cannot be laid on anybody in particular. Unfortunately, because of the miscalculation, there has been a noticeable decrease in the utilisation of fertilisers since that time. Secondly, instead of recouping farmers by means of increased prices, we are to recoup them by means of the fertiliser payment. This costs the Treasury no more and the consumers no more, and it leaves things financially just as they were.

Under the 1947 Act there was a prima facie case for a Special Review last October because of the sudden substantial increase in the cost of production, involving wages, fertilisers, transport charges, petroleum and many other things, but it was left to the Government either to agree or disagree upon the facts once an examination had taken place. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, he made an announcement of the Government's decision in November last. In effect, the decision was that the Government felt that the industry was entitled to something like £26 million, £16 million of that to be in respect of prices and £10 million in respect of fertiliser payments.

I do not believe there is a party in the House which is really in love with subsidies as such, although over the past 11 years all kinds of subsidies have been used for certain purposes and have not been wholly unsuccessful. The Labour Government were criticised very severely in 1947 over the calf subsidy, but if it had not been for the calf subsidy we should have had much less red meat in this country in 1951. While many forms of subsidy have been used, many have also been allowed to lapse. Still, it may be that a subsidy here and there will prove very useful.

In any case, the position in 1952 is very different from what it was pre-war. If a subsidy was provided pre-war, it was done just to keep the farmer's head above water or it was given to the farmer without there being any central long-term policy at which the nation was aiming. Now the machinery of long-term policy is firmly established in the 1947 Act, and the gross income and the net income of farmers are decided in the Annual February Review, which embraces any subsidy that there may be. Therefore, any aids to increased production which impose no further burdens on the consumers will not be opposed by the Opposition for the sake of opposition. We shall, however, watch every instalment very carefully with our minds on both the size of our weekly ration and consumer prices.

I believe that a case can be made, on grounds of agricultural production, for this small Bill. We certainly want maximum production from our own soil, and because of that, and because we think the Bill may help to stop the reduction in the use of fertilisers and may help to increase our food supplies and may help the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to reach the target which we ourselves set in 1947 of 50 per cent. above the 1938 production, we shall not oppose the Bill.

4.24 p.m.