House Of Commons
Monday, 10th March, 1952
The House met at Half past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
City Of London (Various Powers) Bill
Merchant Navy Memorial Bill
As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.
Oral Answers To Questions
Ministry Of Supply
asked the Minister of Supply what progress has been made in the experiments with the twin-engined helicopter, the Bristol type 173; and what encouragement is being given by his Department to expedite the time when it will be a practical proposition in our transport system.
The first prototype flew for the first time on 3rd January last. The Ministry of Supply is giving all possible assistance to the company.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people who are close to these trials are of the opinion that the 13-seater will be a practical proposition in 1954?
I think that that is about correct.
asked the Minister of Supply if he will give the types of jet engines now being developed under the auspices of his Department; and if he is satisfied with the progress being made.
No, Sir. It would not be in the national interest to publish particulars of the different types of aero engines which are now under development. I am satisfied that good progress is being made.
Is the Minister aware that there is a feeling that the lead we have established in that field is not so clear as it was? Would he say whether he thinks that at this time we can afford to lose the services and advice of Sir Frank Whittle?
I answered a Question about Sir Frank Whittle the other day, to which I refer the hon. Member. On the general issue, I think British achievement in the field of jet engines is sufficiently proved by the number of licences which have been taken out by Americans and others to produce these engines.
asked the Minister of Supply what heavy jet transport aircraft are now being developed to follow the Viscount and Comet II machines; and what projects are now in hand for a 30–40-seat helicopter.
Preliminary work is proceeding on several projects, but it is too early to make any detailed statement.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that unless we have a bigger and, if possible faster machine by 1956–57 we shall have lost our lead in this field? Will he give an assurance that, if possible, extra priority will be given not only to the jet transport aircraft now in production but also to the development of their successors?
I agree particularly with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. It seems to me that what we have to do is to make good the lead that we have already established, which means accelerating in every possible way the production of the Comet and other new aircraft which are either in production or just going into production.
Iron Foundries (Supplies)
2, 3 and 6.
asked the Minister of Supply (1) what arrangements he is making to assure continuity of supply of raw materials to the iron-founders for production of approved domestic solid-fuel burning appliances, both in respect of the new housing construction programme and in respect of replacements for old-type open domestic grates;(2) whether, in view of the controversy between ironfounders and steelmakers upon allocation of available resources of scrap and pig-iron, he will state what steps he is taking to assure continuity of the flow of iron-castings to the engineering and allied industries; (3) whether he is aware that 25 per cent., approximately, of the output of iron foundries is devoted to the provision of gutters, drain and soil pipes, baths and cookers for the housing programme; and what steps he is taking to assure adequate supplies of scrap and pig-iron for iron foundries to meet this requirement.
I am examining with the industry the whole question of the division of available raw materials between iron founding and steelmaking. Every effort is being made to meet the requirements for housing and other essential purposes.
In view of the fact that these three Questions are not entirely related to one another, may I ask my right hon. Friend two supplementary questions? First, in connection with Question No. 2, is he satisfied that all steps will be taken to ensure full conservation of our coal resources by making sufficient cast iron available for a million solid-fuel burning appliances during 1952? Second, in view of the importance of the high conversion value of iron castings for the engineering industries, will he pay special attention to the conversion value aspect of the problem?
|Total Working Days||Number of Working Days Lost||Total Working Days||Number of Working Days Lost|
asked the Minister of Supply the number of Royal Ordnance factories in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively.
There are 17 in England, three in Scotland, three in Wales and none in Northern Ireland.
Does not the Minister think it is a pity that there is none in Northern Ireland? Will he bear in mind
As the first question is very detailed I should like to see it on the Order Paper. As regards the second, I certainly can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks.
asked the Minister of Supply what has been the total number of working days lost each month from June, 1951, through sickness in all Royal Ordnance factories, as compared with the corresponding months of the previous year.
As the answer contains a table of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
As I am not yet able to see the figures, may I ask my right hon. Friend, in the meantime, whether he is satisfied with the situation that the figures portray, or whether he thinks some improvement is called for, and, if so, whether he will do anything about it?
When my hon. and gallant Friend sees the figures, he will see that they do show some improvement.
Following is the answer:
The following table shows the total number of working days lost through sickness each month from June, 1951, in all Royal Ordnance factories, with the corresponding figures for the previous year:
that there is a large pool of unemployed labour—and very good labour—there which might well be used for this purpose?
I share my hon. Friend's views. I have already had two meetings with the Minister of Commerce for Northern Ireland on this question, and we are to have further meetings in the very near future.
asked the Minister of Supply when he proposes to introduce a scheme for the allocation of hematite pig-iron.
I regret that I cannot yet say how soon it will be possible to introduce an allocation scheme for hematite pig-iron.
Is the Minister aware of the great urgency of this question? Does he appreciate the very great difficulties confronting export firms such as the one about which I wrote to him about 10 days ago?
Yes, Sir, I recognise those difficulties, and also the administrative difficulties that are involved in bringing in this scheme. We are working hard on it, but it will be at least two months before the scheme can be brought in.
Will the right hon. Gentleman resist the sometimes successful propaganda of steel-using industries that iron is not important in the cast iron trade, and ensure that the utmost investigation will be made before any iron is switched to steel?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the iron-using industries will not allow me to forget that.
Iron And Steel Prices (Mr Hardie's Letter)
asked the Minister of Supply if he will publish the letter of 24th January addressed to him by Mr. Steven Hardie in which he conveyed the unanimous decision of the Iron and Steel Corporation opposing any immediate increase in iron and steel prices.
10 and 19.
asked the Minister of Supply (1) whether he will publish the correspondence which has taken place since 1st January, 1952, between himself and the Iron and Steel Corporation in connection with the recent rise in iron and steel prices;(2) what advice the Iron and Steel Corporation tendered to him in connection with the projected increase in iron and steel prices in the letter from the chairman dated 24th January, 1952.
It is not the practice to publish confidential correspondence between the Government and the Board of a nationalised industry.However, I can tell the House that the purpose of Mr. Hardie's letter of 24th January was to place on record certain arguments advanced by him in the course of a meeting on 23rd January between himself, the Deputy-Chairman of the Corporation, myself, the Parliamentary Secretary and senior officials of the Ministry of Supply, at the conclusion of which a schedule of increased steel prices had been agreed. I must, however, add that Mr. Hardie subsequently denied that he had agreed to any such price increases and rejected the minutes of the meeting. In view of this apparent misunderstanding, I referred the matter back to the Corporation. At a subsequent meeting, Mr. Hardie informed me that the Corporation by a majority confirmed their agreement with the price increases approved at the meeting of 23rd January, at the same time expressing, as before, their regret that the Government was unwilling to re-introduce a subsidy for imported steel.
In view of the fact that Mr. Hardie has publicly stated that he conveyed in the letter of 24th January the unanimous decision of the Corporation rejecting the immediate increased prices, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that his statement to the House that there had been no difference on policy whatsoever was very misleading? The right hon. Gentleman's refusal to publish this letter will be very much resented.
Not at all. I have looked very carefully into what I said in the House the other day and I am perfectly satisfied that it was entirely correct.
Will the right hon. Gentleman then say why, despite his long and detailed statement on 25th February, he suppressed the evidence, even of the existence of the letter of 24th January, in which Mr. Hardie, on behalf of the whole Corporation, opposed the proposed increase in steel prices?
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by "suppressed" the letter. There is a thick bundle of correspondence between the Corporation and not only myself but also the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) about increases in prices. Had I mentioned them all, the debate would have been much longer than it was.
Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that he denies the statement of Mr. Hardie that in the letter which he sent to the Minister on 24th January he expressed the view of the full Corporation that there should be no increase in prices whatsoever? Does he say that that is untrue?
What I said was that the letter of 24th January placed on record a number of arguments made by Mr. Hardie in the course of a meeting on the 23rd, at which meeting it was agreed—or all present except Mr. Hardie thought it had been agreed—that a schedule of price increases was to be introduced. This was an argument in the course of a discussion.
But the right hon. Gentleman does not answer my question. Mr. Hardie made a very definite statement. I have not seen the letter, but the right hon. Gentleman has it. What I am asking is this: does he deny that in that letter of 24th January, on behalf of the Corporation, Mr. Hardie expressed general disagreement with any increase in prices?
It is very hard to answer that, since Mr. Hardie had himself agreed, only the night before, that there should be an increase in prices. I find it very difficult to answer this question. The whole correspondence is confused and, in places, contradictory.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the debate which took place, the House firmly gathered the impression that a freely-arrived-at decision of the Corporation was at variance with Mr. Hardie's view, whereas it is now alleged that the agreement of the Corporation with the Minister was reached after considerable pressure by the Minister on other members of the Corporation?
I completely and flatly deny that any pressure was brought on the members. If hon. Members opposite press me too hard, I might change my view and publish this correspondence. I think it is most undesirable to publish confidential correspondence between a Government Department and a nationalised board, and if it is published I warn hon. Members opposite that they might find it somewhat of a mixed blessing.
There is some confusion about this correspondence. Would it not be in the interests of the right hon. Gentleman, in order to clear up the confusion, that the correspondence should be published? Since it has been asked for, those who have asked for it must, of course, accept the responsibility, which we do.
I still think it is most undesirable to start a precedent of publishing confidential correspondence between a Government Department and the board of a nationalised industry. It would be bound to impair the frankness and freedom with which they exchange views and advice on these questions, and it is only for that reason that I resist this request.
What the right hon. Gentleman has just said is quite proper. We agree that confidential correspondence should ordinarily not be published, but if he gains the consent of Mr. Hardie to the publication of the correspondence, would he not then agree to disclose it?
I have consulted the Corporation about it and they are strongly opposed to the publication of this correspondence.
We cannot spend more time on this Question.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.
Cotton Cloths (Contracts)
asked the Minister of Supple whether he is aware that cotton cloths are being offered for sale in this country by Continental mills supplying Her Majesty's Government; how many of these Government contracts have been placed by Her Majesty's present Government; and what steps will be taken to terminate them.
Yes, Sir. Seven contracts for the supply of cotton cloths were signed by His Majesty's Government between 26th October and 7th December last. Since then no further contracts of this kind have been concluded. It is not our intention to terminate these contracts, which contain no break clause.
Factories, Coventry (Steel Supplies)
asked the Minister of Supply if he is aware that the defence programme is being held up by shortage of steel in certain engineering shops in Coventry factories; and what steps he proposes to take to deal with the situation.
If the hon. Member will let me have particulars about the factories to which she refers, I will look into the matter.
I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that I have asked for this information. In the meantime, will he look into the position at Morris Engines and Armstrong Siddeley, where the men cannot understand, as they are on rearmament work, why they have been laid off? Further, is he aware that Coventry engineering firms are endeavouring to carry out a mutual aid scheme? Will he look into it and see if it is possible to help them along?
Jet Fighter (Swiss Press Article)
asked the Minister of Supply if he will inquire into and report to the House the circumstances in which information about the Super-marine Swift was made available for publication in Switzerland, in view of the fact that this jet fighter is still on the secret list in this country.
I would refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the reply given to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) on 27th February.
I would not expect the right hon. Gentleman to be responsible for newspaper articles based on surmise, but would he not consider it desirable to have a further review of the procedure which governs the partial publication by his Department and the Air Ministry of information relating to types of aircraft still on the secret list?
We are following the procedure which was agreed under the right hon. and learned Gentleman's administration. On the whole, I think it is satisfactory, but the problem is to decide how much and how little to give. If we give too little, then it is very difficult to restrain the Press. If, on the other hand, we give too much, then obviously that is a danger. I do not think there has been any leakage whatsoever in the present case.
Would the right hon. Gentleman look at the problem, having regard to the publication of this article? I must not make any criticism, but might it not be desirable to have a look at the procedure again?
I do not think that this article raises any issue. The photographs were published in agreement with the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply, and the particulars contained in the article are extremely inaccurate and obviously based upon surmise.
Us Ore (Uk Purchases)
asked the Minister of Supply whether he will give particulars of the 750,000 tons of iron ore to be made available by the United States steel industry to the United Kingdom, according to the agreement between the Governments of the two countries, set out in Command Paper No. 8464.
Whilst a considerable proportion of the purchases has now been made, negotiations by the United Kingdom steel industry are in progress for the rest, and they would be prejudiced if detailed particulars were given at the present time.
I am obliged to the Minister, but I do not think that I am clear, or that anyone else is clear, as to what is meant by the 750,000 tons of ore to be made available. Does that mean that ore which had already been bought by America is being relinquished by them to us, that they are reducing their intended purchases this year by 750,000 tons, or are they selling us the ore? What exactly does it mean?
It means that purchases which they had intended to make they are no longer going to make. They informed us what those purchases were to be, so that we might have the opportunity of making those purchases. It does not follow that we shall necessarily be able to obtain all of them in full, but we are doing our best.
Does that mean that the total purchases by America of ore from Sweden and elsewhere, including Africa, this year, will be 750,000 tons fewer than last year?
Unless they make up for it in some other way.
asked the Minister of Supply what proportion of re-armament orders are at present being placed with the S.A.L. design and manufacturing unit at Prestwick Airport.
It would be contrary to established practice to give information about the value of contracts placed with particular firms.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that even if 1 per cent. of the Government's orders which are allotted to England were diverted to Prestwick, it would put that factory on a satisfactory basis? Surely he is not going to follow the precedent of the previous Government in pursuing a vendetta against Scotland.
There is, of course, no question of any vendetta against Scotland. This firm is particularly suited to subcontract work. We have a recognised procedure for helping firms to obtain subcontracts, and we are doing what we can for that firm as well as for others in a similar position.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this was one of the smaller firms which suffered when the aircraft programme had to be cut down, and that there is a very valuable staff there, whose energy is not fully employed? Will he look into the possibility of making use of this factory in Prestwick, as there is a great deal of feeling that Scotland has never really had a proper share of our aircraft development work?
We are well aware of this firm's facilities, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has drawn the attention of successive Governments, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, in so far as we can, we will see that it gets its fair share.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall take an early opportunity of raising this matter.
Mr. Speaker, have I no rights? May I not resist the claim put forward by the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes)?
asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction in the northern region about the allocation of contracts to the engineering firms in connection with the re-armament programme; and if he will give an assurance that this region will, in future, receive its fair share.
asked the Minister of Supply what steps he is taking by way of placing Government contracts to avoid redundancy in factories in the Sunderland area administered by the North Eastern Trading Estates Limited.
Contracts are not allocated to any particular region and I am not aware that there is dissatisfaction in the North. Firms on the Ministry of Supply trades lists have an equal opportunity of tendering for contracts and any firm can apply to be included in the lists. Firms on these lists who occupy factories administered by the North Eastern Trading Estates Limited, receive the preferential treatment given to firms in all Development Areas.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that by answering two Questions together he has completely omitted to answer my Question? Will he be kind enough to send for the report of the Northern Engineering Bureau, which exists to help the Government in its re-armament programme and to help the North of England, and see the dissatisfaction expressed in that report? Also, may I have an assurance that he will take some action about it when he has read it?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the past few months some 700 workpeople have been laid off in Sunderland factories and that the late Government gave preference to the Development Areas in the allocation of contracts?
We are continuing to give exactly the same preference as the late Government to the Development Areas. I will certainly study the report to which the hon. Lady refers.
May I put a question to my right hon. Friend in about a fortnight?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he says that preference is given to firms in Development Areas, there is one such area in Lancashire, which I have the honour to represent—Westhoughton—which has received no preference whatever in the past seven years? They have not even had a new factory in that time.
Cars (Export And Home Sales)
asked the Minister of Supply what export figure for motorcars was fixed for the 12 months ended September, 1951; and what steps he has taken to ensure that this figure has been adhered to.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen an advertisement, like the one I have here, which says:
"Your new car problem solved.
As the motor trade organisations have stated that these cars being used by overseas visitors come off the export quota, will he inform the House how many such cars are issued each year for that purpose, and, secondly, what restrictions are placed on their re-sale in this country?Hire—a 1951 Austin A.40 or A.70 to drive yourself for as little as £1 a day"?
I think that is rather a different question.
asked the Minister of Supply if, in view of the further evidence submitted to him by the hon. Member for Coventry, South, and taking into consideration the possibility that the measures suggested by the motor trade may prove inadequate to deal with various infringements arising from the distribution of new cars, he will keep before him for consideration the necessity for setting up a committee of inquiry to receive evidence and make recommendations on the admitted abuses now prevailing.
I am not prepared to assume, in advance, that the new measures decided upon by the motor trade will prove inadequate. I shall, of course, continue to watch the situation closely and shall not hesitate to consider any further action which may appear necessary.
I have given the right hon. Gentleman further information. As, a week ago, he stated that deposits should be returned to people on request, what action does he propose to take against the Stanbourne Motor Company, Pokes-down Hill, Bournemouth; Westover Garage Limited, Bournemouth; and H. Saunders and Co., 140, Golders Green Road, N.W.?—
Order. This is going beyond the limits of a supplementary question.
On a point of order. The Minister gave that information last week, Sir, and I should like your guidance as to whether I am not in order in giving him examples of where that procedure has not been followed?
That depends on the extent of the supplementary question. Supplementary questions could be indefinitely prolonged if every hon. Member claimed to give a large number of examples in support of his contentions.
asked the Minister of Supply whether he will arrange some system of priorities in allocation of new motorcars which will enable taxi-cab owners to obtain a fair share of new cars available.
I trust that the new arrangements decided upon by the motor trade will assure to taxi-cab owners a fair share of the cars available.
While thanking the Minister for his reply, may I ask him to realise that taxis have to conform to certain standards or be taken off the road, and that the supply of new cars to this industry is a matter of employment or unemployment to the taxi-men concerned?
I am sure that this is well in the minds of the motor industry, but the hon. Member's Question will bring it to their notice once more.
Lead Supplies (Licensing)
asked the Minister of Supply if, in view of the widespread and growing thefts of lead from churches, private homes and buildings of historical interest, he will consider introducing a licensing system for all purchasers of lead.
A licensing system has been in operation for some time under the Copper, Lead and Zinc Distribution Order, 1951. For administrative reasons the purchasers of small quantities of such metals were not included.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Suffolk alone no fewer than 12 churches, and more in Norfolk, have suffered in this way? Although the amount of lead involved is small, it is essential that measures should be taken to stop these thefts. In the very nature of things, it is almost impossible to protect churches at night.
To control all small purchases of lead would mean licensing every rag and bone merchant in the country, and that would be extremely difficult.
Factories, Scotland (Ingots And Scrap)
asked the Minister of Supply if he is aware of the present short-time working in certain branches of Scottish steel production and of the particular difficulties arising from the Scottish industries' traditional dependence on charging a high proportion of scrap; and whether he will take particular account of these circumstances in considering the allocation of ingots and scrap obtained as a result of the recent agreements with the United States of America and Western Germany.
Yes, Sir. These factors will certainly be taken into account by the steel industry in arranging the allocation of imported ingots and scrap.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in past economic crises the industries of Clydeside have taken rather more than their fair share of the beating and, in facing the new and unprecedented difficulties of today, will my right hon. Friend keep their special circumstances in mind and ensure that they do not again suffer disproportionately?
Yes, Sir, I certainly will, but my hon. Friend will realise that scrap is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain and that the only satisfactory long-term solution is the production of more pig-iron.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion of the ingots he intends importing in the near future he is prepared to allocate to Scotland? Scotland is becoming very concerned about this. There will be short-time working and unemployment in a certain factory there unless it is given a fair share of the scrap which comes in.
I could not go into figures without notice.
asked the Minister of Supply what action is being taken to increase the supply of reinforcing rods and wire; what is the present output; and what is the proposed output by the end of 1952.
Present output of reinforcing steel is at the rate of about 260,000 tons a year. Steps are being taken to increase supply, both by the expansion of output and by imports from America.
Centurion Tank (Cost)
asked the Minister of Supply what steps he proposes to take to reduce the price of the Centurion tank.
I shall be glad to consider any suggestions by the hon. Member.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Cromwell tank cost £10,000 in 1945 and that in 1950 the cost of the Centurion tank was £35,000 and that it has now risen to £38,000—enough to build 20 houses? Is he just awaiting suggestions from me before he does some-think about it?
The weight and complexity of a tank, and the cost of living as a whole, have increased during that time.
asked the Minister of Supply when delivery will start of cloth ordered abroad for re-armament; and what is the maximum rate of delivery per month or quarter called for by the contracts.
Deliveries began early in 1951 and have continued since then at an increasing rate. The contracts stipulate a completion date and not a rate of deliveries.
Can my right hon. Friend tell us when the contracts will be completed? Can their completion be speeded up and the orders which his predecessor in the Socialist Government placed abroad now be given to Lancashire?
The contracts end on different dates, but the bulk of them will be completed during the course of this year. The existence of these contracts is not in any way preventing our placing all the new orders that we can in Lancashire and elsewhere—which we are doing—in order to do what we can to help the industry at this difficult time.
Hernia (Disablement Benefit)
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether his attention has been drawn to the many cases where a workman suffers from hernia due to accident but is unable to obtain operative treatment within six months and is later penalised in any claim for loss of faculty unless it be appreciable and permanent; and what action he proposes to take in such cases.
I am not aware of any cases in which a man has been deprived of disablement benefit in the circumstances described by the hon. Member, but if he has such a case in mind perhaps he will let me have details.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an alteration in the regulations is considered desirable so that a workman shall be able to claim that his date of disablement is the date of the operation rather than the date when the hernia was actually sustained? Would not that be a desirable way of getting over the difficulty which I have put to the Minister?
No, Sir. Both the policy and the practice of the medical boards and the medical appeal tribunals are to prevent the occurrence of what the hon. Member fears may happen, but I should be obliged if he would send me the details if he has a case in which this has happened.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is aware that assessment of loss of faculty in cases of industrial dermatitis does not take into account the increased susceptibility of the worker's skin to a wide range of other irritants; that the worker is restricted in his choice of occupation, and that the assessments are too low; and what steps he proposes to take to remedy the position.
I am advised that such increased susceptibility is taken into account by medical boards and medical appeal tribunals. I would remind the hon. Member that special hardship allowance is available, in addition to the main disablement benefit, in appropriate cases.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the advice given to him does not seem to tally with our experience in the field of work and that these assessments are considered by the workers as being ridiculously low in very many cases? Will the right hon. Gentleman have another look at this?
I can only say that I do not share all the hon. Gentleman's advantages in putting Questions on these technical subjects, but the medical boards and tribunals are composed of the best medical men that we can obtain to serve on them, and I am told that their assessments in these cases take into account all the matters mentioned in the Question.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is aware that some of his insurance officers appeal against every case in which a worker is certified to be suffering from industrial dermatitis; that there is a considerable delay before the worker is examined by the medical tribunal, and that certifying surgeons serve no useful purpose while this practice continues; and whether he will give instructions that this practice should cease.
The great majority of claims for benefit for industrial dermatitis are decided by insurance officers on the basis of the examining medical practitioner's report. But if the hon. Member has any particular office in mind, perhaps he will let me know.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the trouble which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), seeks to remedy is partly due to the fact that there is a shortage of dermatologists? Will he bring this to the attention of the deans of the medical schools?
I will certainly consider any suggestion which the right hon. Lady makes to me on this technical matter.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that men who have suffered from this complaint afterwards often have the greatest difficulty in finding employment in which a recrudescence will not occur? Will he consult his colleagues in other Departments who may be interested in instituting a special inquiry into the causes of the disease and the selection of suitable employment for men who have suffered from it?
That is a very much wider question than the one on the Order Paper.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is yet in a position to reply to the representations made to him by the Old-Age Pensioners' Association for an immediate increase in the old-age pension.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, owing to a steady increase in the cost of living since this Government took office, the old-age pensioner is suffering acute hardship, and as official representations were made to him by the Old-age Pensioners' Association last December, is it not callous and discourteous not to reply to those representations?
In reply to the first part of the hon. Lady's supplementary question, I shall be giving the exact figures for which she asks in answer to the next Question on the Order Paper. With regard to the second part, the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made on 26th February, that he will make a statement about the review of pensions to the House in due course, still holds good.
Will the right hon. Gentleman inform his right hon. Friend that any increase in old-age pensions which does not take account of the cost of living increase which has already taken place, and is merely in respect of any proposed increase in the cost of living which the Government are planning through a reduction in the food subsidies, would be quite inadequate?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the position of old-age pensioners is the cause of just as much concern on this side of the House as it is on the other side?
asked the Minister of National Insurance by what amount the present scale of old-age pensions would have to be increased to compensate for the reduction since 1st November last of the purchasing power of the £; and what the cost of granting such an increase would be.
On the basis of the Official Index of Retail Prices introduced in June, 1947, the increase in retirement pensions that would be necessary to give them the same purchasing power as on 1st November, 1951, would be about 7d. on 26s., 8½d. on 30s. and 1s. 2d. on 50s., the pension for a married couple. The cost would be of the order of £7 million a year.
Will the Minister bear in mind that he still has time to send these figures to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for appropriate action to be taken in tomorrow's Budget?
asked the Minister of National Insurance if he can give an estimate of the additional income, excluding the corresponding additional Government contribution, which would accrue to the National Insurance Fund if weekly contributions were increased by Is, for men with corresponding additions for other contributors.
About £50 million.
Does the Minister agree that it is usually socially better that contributions to the national emergency by wage earners should come when they are at work rather than by cutting the benefits when they are most in need of them?
Retiring Pension Age
asked the Minister of National Insurance if he will give an estimate of what would be the additional net income accruing in the current year and in the three following years to the National Insurance Fund if the retiring pension age was increased by two years.
This information is not available. To form an estimate one would have to make a number of assumptions about the details of a plan for raising the pension age, and I cannot undertake to go into all these points within the limits of a Parliamentary answer.
Does not the Minister at least agree that the saving should be very considerable? If so, would it not be worth while making the savings and using part of them to improve the condition of those who have retired and are suffering because of the rise of prices?
I should like to take time to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.
Unemployment Benefit (Nantlle Valley)
asked the Minister of National Insurance if he is aware that unemployed persons in the Nantlle Valley, Caernarvonshire, are being disallowed unemployment benefits if they refuse to accept work in Bristol or London or other distant towns; and if he will change this.
I am aware that certain claimants in this valley have been disqualified for unemployment benefit on the ground that they refused without good cause to accept employment which was offered them elsewhere. But I have no power to vary the decisions of the independent statutory authority in these cases.
Is the Minister aware that these men were offered jobs which were so poorly paid as to make it impossible for them to maintain two homes; that it was most unfair and that they had no alternative but to refuse these jobs? Is he further aware that the application of the regulations under his dispensation is far harsher than it ever was under the previous Government? Would he bear in mind that next month a new factory is due to open in this valley, and that it would be a pity to disperse the available labour force which is already there?
These offers of employment are, of course, made by the Ministry of Labour, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put any question on that aspect to my right hon. and learned Friend. So far as I am concerned, there are four cases of men who have been disqualified by the insurance officer. One appealed to the local appeal tribunal, which has upheld the decision of the insurance officer.
Retired Pensioners, Sunderland
asked the Minister of National insurance the number of old-age pensioners who retired after 1st September, 1951, on a pension of 26s. for a single person and 42s. for a married couple, in Sunderland; and how many of these are in receipt of Assistance Board supplementary allowances.
I regret that this information is not available.
When the information comes to his notice, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he has old-age pensions under review, to abolish the anomaly that exists between pensioners who retired before September last year and after September last year?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that point has been in my mind.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is now in a position to reply to the communication addressed to him by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools on 27th November, 1951, and to which he sent an interim reply on 10th December, under reference M.C. 54404.
The hon. Member will have received my further letter.
While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the reply which I have received, may I ask if, in view of the evidence revealed in this case, he will now review the administrative machinery in his local offices about references to local tribunals to avoid repetition of this type of case?
This particular case was one of special difficulty, but I have the whole question of principle under consideration.
Should not the administrative machinery in the local offices be reviewed to prevent this type of case arising in the future?
Local Appeal Tribunals
asked the Minister of National Insurance if he can now make a statement on the working of local appeal tribunals, with particular reference to the avoidance wherever possible of purely formal or abortive hearings of matters within the jurisdiction of the Minister himself.
Arrangements are being made to meet the point which the hon. Member has in mind, and I hope to put them into operation shortly.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but will he bear in mind that my purpose in drawing attention to this matter was not to suggest any alteration in the machinery of justice, which is still far from perfect in the Department, but rather to draw attention to the loss of wages and time being sustained by the workers, the inconvenience to employers, and the loss of public money?
Blind Persons (Weekly Allowances)
asked the Minister of National Insurance what is the purchasing power, as compared with 1948, of the 15s. additional weekly allowance given to blind persons and those suffering from respiratory tuberculosis.
On the basis of the Official Index of Retail Prices the present purchasing power of this additional allowance is 12s. 3d.
Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the National Assistance Board the views held by many Members on both sides of the House, and I hope himself, that the case for the raising of these scales is unanswerable?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the initiative and the responsibility in this matter lie with the Assistance Board.
Sickness Benefit (Chronic Illness)
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the fact that the cost of living has greatly risen, he will increase the sickness benefit, as the 26s. fixed weekly allowance is now insufficient for chronic sufferers.
I must ask the hon. Member to await the outcome of the Government's review of pensions, but I can assure him that I have been keeping the position of these people in mind.
In view of the fact that these people are in very serious difficulties because the amount they are receiving is too small to meet the increased cost of living, will the right hon. Gentleman propose that the amount should be increased?
I cannot add to the reply which I have already given to the hon. Gentleman.
asked the Prime Minister what steps he is taking to bring about conversations at the highest level in an effort to reduce world tension.
There has been no change in the situation since I replied to a similar Question put by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) on 29th January.
Is the Prime Minister aware that, in view of the statements made during the Election that he would initiate conversations at the highest level, great disappointment has been caused by his failure to do so? There is great dissatisfaction in the country.
Royal Commission On Taxation (Chairmanship)
asked the Prime Minister whom he intends to recommend for appointment as the chairman of the Royal Commission on Taxation of Profits and Income in place of Lord Waverley.
The hon. Member must wait and see.
Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that the man needed for this post is a chartered accountant who has a knowledge of big business and who is not liable to accede to the pressure of vested interests? Would he not agree that Mr. Steven Hardie would be the ideal man for the job?
Overseas Information Services (Cuts)
asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the strong views expressed in all quarters of the House, he will now give instructions that the proposed cuts in the foreign services of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the British Council shall be abandoned.
The B.B.C's grant-in-aid is being mantained at the same level as last year, and the cuts result from rising costs. The economies are largely in overheads, and the actual output on our transmitters is being reduced by very little.The British Council's expenditure should certainly be included in the economy measures to which many of our activities must be subject.
Since it was right during the war, when we suffered from shortages of every kind, to build up these foreign information services in order to help us to win the war, can it be right to cut that now when we want to use it to prevent war?
I think that that is a very argumentative manner of presenting a supplementary question.
Does the Prime Minister not agree that opinion is a major weapon in winning the cold war?
Opinion is very important indeed and, certainly, every effort should be made to guide it, but I am not at all sure that all the activities of the British Council have a direct effect upon the movement of opinion for or against a peaceful solution of our difficulties. I think they require careful study and scrutiny. As for the rest, as I have mentioned in the first part of my answer, we are doing the best we can, having regard to the general need for keeping expenditure within reasonable bounds.
Since the cost of restoring the cuts proposed to be made is only something over £200,000, would not the Prime Minister consider restoring those cuts to avoid the cutting down of broadcasts to Europe and Latin America?
I must say that I think it is a pity to take such a very small view of the importance of an expenditure of £200,000.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will secure an allocation from the defence funds to increase the external broadcasting service, in view of its importance to this country's efforts towards world peace.
May I repeat, in a different way, the argumentative supplementary which has just been asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker)? May I ask the Minister if he does not think that this is a time when the voice of Britain should not be heard less on the air but should be heard increasingly, and that it would be a fitting thing to allocate a sum from the defence funds for this necessary and valuable purpose?
The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to add anything to the answer given by the Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Might I inform him that, in regard to the smaller number of hours that the B.B.C. voice is to be heard, the total cut in B.B.C. transmissions is only in the proportion of 5 per cent.?
Does not the Minister think that even a reduction of 5 per cent. is extremely serious at this time, when the voice of Britain ought to be heard across the world?
Mr Edgar Sanders (Detention, Hungary)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has considered all the possibilities of taking discriminatory action against the Hungarian Government, such as requiring them to close their Legation in London, pending the release of Mr. Edgar Sanders.
As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) on 20th February, Her Majesty's Government will not overlook any suitable means of putting further pressure on the Hungarian Government to release Mr. Sanders. But I am not satisfied that the action advocated in the Question would have the desired result.
Is my hon. Friend aware that that reply, which was perhaps not unexpected, is rather disappointing, in view of the success which crowned the efforts of the United States State Department in getting their man back? Will my hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend to regard this matter as of very great importance?
We certainly regard it as a matter of great importance, affecting our relations with Hungary. As to the success of the American State Department in getting Mr. Vogeler released, my hon. Friend will recall that I told my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough that this was done because the United States were in a position to offer certain concessions regarding the re-opening of the Hungarian consulates in America which would not apply in this country.
Egypt (Dismissed British Officials)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps he has taken, and what further steps he proposes to take, to assist British nationals who have been removed from posts in Egypt finding employment in this country.
As indicated in my answer on 20th February to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) these arrangements are under the general control of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour, who is collecting information about the service and qualifications of these officials. Approaches have already been made to a number of authorities, who have agreed to give particular consideration to helping them to obtain suitable employment. Some of the officials have already been interviewed at the Foreign Office and Ministry of Labour.
In regard to the dismissal of British teaching staff in Egypt, could the Minister bring the matter to the notice of his colleague in the Ministry of Education to see whether assistance can be given in placing the teachers in positions in England?
We have consulted the Ministry of Education, and to that extent we have anticipated the hon. Gentleman's supplementary. We are also in touch with the National Union of Teachers.
Missing Raf Men
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any reply has yet been received to the request addressed to the higher Soviet authorities for an answer to the original inquiry whether the missing Royal Air Force men are in the Soviet zone of Germany.
Yes, Sir. A reply has now been received from the Soviet military authorities at Potsdam stating that measures have been taken to search for the three British personnel mentioned and that they will inform us of the results of the investigations. The British authorities have been asked to provide full information about the men, and a full description has been sent to the Soviet authorities.
High Commission Employees (Maternity Grants)
asked the Minister of National Insurance, in view of the hardship of the refusal to pay maternity grants in respect of British subjects temporarily employed by the United Kingdom High Commission in Germany, whether he will take steps to remove this grievance and thus entitle contributors to secure the benefits for which they have contributed.
I am looking into this matter, in the light of the recommendations made by the National Insurance Advisory Committee in their recent report on maternity benefit, and hope to be able to make an announcement very shortly.
Are we to understand that the announcement will be in respect of this particular anomaly?
May I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that, since we pay health benefits to foreigners, it is wrong that these people, our own nationals, should be in this position?
I fully appreciate that. There are a number of defects in the Regulations which we have inherited from our predecessors, and I hope that in due course we shall put them all right.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when the name of the new Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is likely to be announced; and whether he will exert the influence of Her Majesty's Government to make sure that there is no premature announcement of any candidate who has not yet accepted the offer.
I hope it will be possible to make an announcement within the next few days. I will certainly do what I can to ensure that no premature announcement is made.
While thanking my hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask him to bear in mind that it will be a handicap to whatever distinguished person accepts this post if the impression is given that the post has been hawked round the world before it was offered to him?
I will bear it in mind. I would point out that the leakage which took place about Sir Oliver Franks was not from any British source.
Are we to understand that the announcement which the hon. Gentleman proposes to make will be final, that somebody has been actually appointed?
That was the purpose of my answer.
Burma (Chinese Nationalist Forces)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government will propose to the Security Council of the United Nations that the Council shall invite the Chinese Nationalist authorities in Formosa to withdraw the Chinese Nationalist Forces at present in the Kengtung Province of Burma.
Have not the Burma Government a right under the Charter to demand the withdrawal of these troops? Are not the Siamese Government ready to allow them to cross Siam, and should we not, therefore, ask the Chinese Nationalist spokesman in the Security Council to give an assurance that orders have been given for their withdrawal?
It is certainly the right of the Burma Government to ask for the withdrawal of these troops. We have made our proposal for dealing with this situation. As regards action in the Security Council, the Burma Government have themselves said that they do not think it would serve any useful purpose.
Could we not also invite the Chinese to withdraw their forces from Korea?
Would the hon. Gentleman ensure by some means that the Chinese Nationalist authorities in Formosa do give the necessary orders to these men to come out of Kengtung?
Naturally, we shall do everything we can in order to take the heat out of this potentially dangerous situation, but I would prefer that we should concentrate on the course of action proposed by my right hon. Friend in the foreign affairs debate.
South-Eastern Gas Board (Offices, Croydon)
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what sum has been authorised by him for expenditure by the South-Eastern Gas Board in connection with the work to be carried out at their head office at Croydon.
As explained in my answer to my hon. Friend of 3rd December, the authorisations granted in connection with work in this office cover an estimated total cost of £37,707.
Can my right hon. Friend say how much they actually spent?
Matters of some legal difficulty arise in this case, and in accordance with arrangements that I have made, following the Scarcroft inquiry, to refer matters of this kind to the Director of Public Prosecutions when they arise, I have done so in this case.
Nw Consultative Council
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many persons on the North-Western Electricity Consultative Council were appointed by him as representing industry; whether he is satisfied that this small proportion of industrial representatives on these consultative councils ensures that industrial interests as regards electricity are given the necessary priority in the present economic emergency; and if he will take steps at an early date to review the system of appointing these consultative committees with a view to its amendment.
The North-Western Electricity Consultative Council was constituted by my predecessor according to the provisions of Section 7 of the Electricity Act, 1947. It comprises among its 27 members a deputy chairman who was nominated by the National Union of Manufacturers, another member nominated by the Federation of British Industries, and a third member from the Association of the British Chambers of Commerce. In addition, it is known that other members have industrial interests. I will bear in mind the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend, but any major change would require legislation.
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement as to the directions he will give under Section 5 of the Electricity Act, 1947, to the British Electricity Authority to encourage to the utmost the employment of electricity for those industrial purposes for which it is most suitable; and in this connection to reconsider the recently-proposed increased charge for industrial electricity.
No, Sir, I do not think such a direction is necessary. The fixing of tariffs in an area is the responsibility of the area electricity board.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the new tariffs will mean an increase of 25–50 per cent. in power costs for cotton mills, thereby increasing substantially the costs of production of cotton goods at a time when the cotton trade is being exhorted to do its best to increase its export trade?
Yes, I appreciate the difficulties, but my hon. and gallant Friend will realise that it is difficult to discriminate between industries.
London Transport (Increased Fares)
asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the discontent in London about the increase in fares on London Transport and, in particular, of the alteration of fare stages which has resulted in a large increase in the cost of travelling; and if he will exercise his powers under Section 80 of the Transport Act, 1947, to require the Transport Tribunal to review the operation of the relevant charges scheme at an early date.
78 and 80.
asked the Minister of Transport (1) if he will refer to the Central Transport Consultative Committee the question of the recent rise in fares in the London Passenger Transport area and request them to review its effects upon the budgets of the travelling public of London; and to make recommendations;(2) if he will request the Central Transport Consultative Committee to inquire into the manner in which the London Transport Executive and the Railways Executive have carried out the decisions of the Transport Tribunal on the Passenger Charges Scheme. 1951.
asked the Minister of Transport if, under Section 80 of the Transport Act, 1947, he will require the Transport Tribunal to review the recent increases in fares, brought into operation by the London Transport Executive a week ago, on the ground that they are an excessive burden to the travelling public of London.
asked the Minister of Transport whether he will refer the recently raised London Transport fares to the Central Transport Consultative Committee for their consideration, drawing their attention to the fact that not only have fares increased but shorter fare stages are now in operation, with a view to their recommending an adjustment in fares and stages to reduce the hardship; and if he realises the effect on travellers, who require to make long journeys to and from work and the burdens involved.
Mr. Speaker, I should be glad to have your permission and that of the House to answer orally and together Questions Nos. 77, 78, 80, 81 and 82, which deal with London passenger fares—
On a point of order. Last Monday, Sir, we were discussing this problem on the Second Reading of the British Transport Commission Bill and I sought to intervene on the subject of these increased fares. I was told that I was out of order and prevented from making my speech. Apparently we are denied the right of speech but, as the result of a variety of decisions that have been made over recent years, it is possible to ask Questions on a subject which we are denied the right to debate. Therefore, I want to know whether these Questions on the Order Paper are strictly admissible, having regard to the Ruling given in respect of my speech last Monday.
I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice that he would ask me this question. In the debate last Monday on the British Transport Commission Bill, the subject of freight charges and fares was ruled by me to be out of order for the reason I then gave in c. 106 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. That was why the hon. Member was prevented from reading a letter he had received on the subject of the increased fares in London. However, the Questions addressed to the Minister of Transport today are in order because he has power under Section 80 of the Transport Act, 1947, to require the Transport Tribunal to review the operation of any charges scheme and, under Section 6 (7), to refer any matter, including charges, to the Central Transport Consultative Committee for consideration. The two matters are really quite different and the one Ruling does not conflict with the other.
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, but may I make the further point that, if I had been permitted to speak, I should have asked the Minister to do what all these Questions ask him to do.
I am sorry that we did not have the advantage of the hon. Member's speech.
May I raise another point of order, Mr. Speaker, in connection with the point just raised by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams)? May I, with great respect, draw your attention to the fact that today I tabled two Questions to the Minister of Transport. They have not been printed on the Order Paper, neither have I received any explanation as to why they are not on the Paper, although they both deal with matters of substantial public interest and not with the day-to-day administration of the British Transport authority.
The hon. Member has not given me any notice of this. Therefore, I cannot possibly answer him now, but I assure him that I will make inquiries into his complaint and see him about it.
I take it that I have your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House to proceed.The increases in London Transport fares were made by the British Transport Commission under the authority of a scheme referred to the Transport Tribunal, an independent judicial body, in April, 1951, and recently confirmed by them after a public inquiry. I am advised that it would be inconsistent with the intentions of the Transport Act in regard to the control of the Commission's charges for the Consultative Committee to review the Tribunal's decisions, or for me to invoke Section 80 to require the Tribunal to review the operation of a scheme which they have just confirmed. The scheme, however laid down maxima within which the Commission have discretion to fix actual fares and this discretion covers alteration of fare stages which appears to be a main cause of complaint. Alterations of fare stages and fares in relation to them are matters which can properly be referred forthwith to the Consultative Committee and I am so referring them. I must make it clear, that under the Transport Act, 1947, no action other than reference to the Consultative Committee is open to me.