House Of Commons
Wednesday, 30th April, 1952
The House met at Half past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Corporation Bill
Read the Third time, and passed.
I beg to ask leave to present a petition signed by some 10,000 electors, mainly of the East Midlands area of England. This petition conveys the anxiety of the people about the effects of the cuts in food subsidies, particularly on the lower income groups, whose increased cost of living due to these cuts is not offset by relief of taxation. The petition ends with the customary Prayer:
"Wherefore your petitioners pray that these cuts be withdrawn and measures taken to reintroduce the food subsidies which are so essential to the well-being of the people of this country, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever humbly pray."
To lie upon the Table.
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation if he will name those employed as civil air attachés and the countries to which they are attached; and if he will increase this number, in view of the necessity of increasing the export of British aircraft.
I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of those officers employed as civil air attachés and of the countries to which they are accredited. The answer to the second part of the Question is: "No, Sir"; measures for increasing aircraft exports are primarily the responsibility of the aircraft industry and not of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, but the Ministry's overseas representatives have instructions to assist the aircraft industry so far as they can in the course of their normal duties.
In asking a supplementary question, may I, on behalf of the whole House, be allowed to congratulate my hon. Friend upon his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] While I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask whether, when he has had more time to consider the matter, he will bear in mind that our American friends have representatives in great numbers all over the world selling their own products of their aircraft industry; that if he will follow their example it will, I am sure, pay good dividends; and will he look at it again?
I am sorry that my maiden answer to my hon. Friend should be rather a dusty one. The fact is that the aircraft firms and the Society of British Aircraft Constructors are well represented abroad at the moment. In the circumstances, I do not think it would be justifiable to have further attachés for this purpose.
Following is the list:
- R. S. S. Dickinson, United States of America and Mexico.
- Air Marshal D. Colyer, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
- G. S. Hill, Argentine, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
- R. M. S. Rayner, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.
- B. G. Barnard, Iraq, Persia and the Persian Gulf.
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation whether he will give an assurance that in all future associate agreements between independent air operators and the corporations, the terms and conditions of employment of persons employed by the associates will be not less favourable than those contained in agreements negotiated through the machinery of the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport, and that all pension rights will be transferable.
My hon. Friend is considering this important point as part of his general review of civil aviation policy.
Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that in any future arrangements that may be made pilots will be transferred with their pension rights?
I cannot give that assurance, but I can assure my hon. Friend that before any announcement is made of the new policy for civil aviation the Minister will consult the trade unions on the National Joint Council which are concerned.
Will the hon. Gentleman also bear in mind the necessity to safeguard wages and conditions of work in factories to which independent operators sub-contract the maintenance and repair of their aircraft?
That seems to me to be rather another question.
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation if he has now concluded his review of civil air service policy.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that tomorrow the bus service recently run under the control of the nationalised service in Scotland passes into the hands of private enterprise? Can he tell us what effect this will have with regard to the displacement of the men already in the service, and if jobs are assured to them under the private enterprise company that is now taking over this nationalised service?
I find it a little difficult to connect the hon. Member's supplementary with the review of civil aviation policy which is now under discussion.
Surely all the services associated with the nationalised air transport system are part and parcel of the review of civil air policy now taking place. Can the hon. Gentleman say if there is to be a basic change and if the nationalised aircraft are to be passed over to the hands of private enterprise?
I cannot anticipate the statement that my hon. Friend will make in due course on the general question of aircraft transport policy.
The hon. Gentleman has said that the trade unions will be consulted before his hon. Friend introduces any new policy. Can he give an assurance that the House will have the opportunity of discussing this matter before the Government finally make up their minds on any definite new policy?
That, I think, is a matter for the Leader of the House.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how he defines "in due course"? When can we expect a statement on civil air policy?
As soon as a satisfactory statement can be made. My hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of the importance of making a statement on this matter, which is complicated and important, at the earliest possible moment.
On a point of order. While we have been getting these assurances changes are taking place.
On a point of order. Should there not be some penalty, Mr. Speaker, when an hon. Member claims audience by using the words "point of order" when he is not raising a point of order?
Points of order are, of course, very useful to the Chair when they are points of order, but if they are not points of order, it really is abusing the Rules of the House to get in debating points.
State Airports (Passenger Charges)
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation under what authority the proposed charges on passengers leaving this country by air at State airports are to be imposed.
With effect from 1st May a charge is being imposed on the operators of international air services calculated on the number of passengers leaving this country by air from State airports. The payment of this charge will be a condition of use of the airports in accordance with Article 49 of the Air Navigation Order, 1949.
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation what schemes have been submitted to him for approval recently for expanded summer services between Scotland and England.
New connections have recently been introduced by British European Airways linking Orkney and Aberdeen directly with London and Manchester, and Glasgow and Edinburgh with Manchester.
Is my hon. Friend satisfied that these improvements go far enough? On looking at the timetable, I was rather disappointed. May I ask my hon. Friend to make his presence felt by giving us something better?
The Question was: "What schemes have been submitted?" and the answer, I am afraid, is that no schemes of this nature for extending summer services have been submitted, but we shall be very glad to investigate the satisfactory or unsatisfactory nature of the services.
While not wishing to prevent any expansion of air services in Scotland, will the hon. Gentleman take note that we on the North-East coast have nothing at all, and will he give some attention to that?
The position on the North-East coast, like the position in Scotland, will be constantly under the review and care of my hon. Friend.
Will my hon. Friend assure the House that something will be done for my part of the area of Scotland between Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen in the West, which is entirely without air services of any kind though these were faithfully promised by the Socialist Government.
Helicopters (Water Tests)
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation what tests over water of helicopters for civil aviation have been carried out; how far these have proved satisfactory; and what further similar tests are proposed.
Existing civil helicopters of the single-engined type are not suitable for public transport operations over water and, therefore, no tests have been made. None is contemplated until a suitable type of helicopter becomes available.
I am looking ahead a little. In view of the fact that islands like the Hebrides and Shetlands are places which desperately need helicopters because other aircraft are unable to land there, would the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that early tests will be made as soon as a suitable type of helicopter is available?
I can assure the hon. Member that my hon. Friend is aware of the importance of investigating the possible use of helicopters for this service as early as is practicable.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the use of helicopters for civil aviation generally for the North of Scotland, quite apart from their use over water?
The use of helicopters for all civil aviation purpose is very much in the mind of the Minister at the present moment.
Rapide Aircraft (Barra Service)
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation what provision is being made to maintain a reserve supply of Rapide aircraft and spare parts until a type of aircraft suitable for such landing strips as that in the Isle of Barra is available.
I am not aware of any suggestion that the Rapide service to the Isle of Barra will be withdrawn.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has rather missed the point. Is he aware that the Rapides are, of course, becoming exhausted both in respect of numbers and spares, and that so far no replacement is really in view that can be applied to places like the Isle of Barra and various other places dependent upon natural sand strips for landing aircraft? Can he make any statement about, or is there any investigation taking place of, the problems confronting places like the Isle of Barra, which have no replacement aircraft in prospect and where the Rapides will very likely, in the near future, have to be withdrawn?
The Corporation concerned have this matter very much in mind, and the hon. Member can be assured that so long as there is no suggestion—and there is not at the moment—of withdrawing this service, the Corporation will ensure that adequate and satisfactory supplies of the aircraft which are operated are available.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Scottish Civil Aviation Advisory Council have been considering this question for a number of years? We have got no further towards a solution of this problem of replacement and even the Heron, which is a possible replacement type on some of these services, is not suitable for places such as Barra.Can the hon. Gentleman give some assurance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] I hope that it will be a point of order, Mr. Speaker, if I ask you to intervene to ensure courtesy from hon. Members opposite. Will the hon. Gentleman give me an answer to the part of the Question which asked for a reserve supply of Rapide aircraft and spare parts in order to ensure the continuation of the service, for which there are no replacements at all and none contemplated?
I appreciate the hon. Member's concern for this very important service. The Corporation are responsible for maintaining it and, as I have said, they have considered this question of the type of aircraft very closely, and so long as they are responsible for maintaining the service they will also be responsible for maintaining adequate supplies of aircraft for that service.
asked the Minister of Civil Aviation when the regular passenger service to the Isle of North Uist will be resumed and island air mail facilities be extended to this district.
I am afraid that the cost of providing these services would be unjustifiably high in present economic circumstances.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a similar reply was very severely criticised when it was given by the previous Government—quite wrongly, I think—and while appreciating the high cost involved, may I ask him if he is nevertheless aware of the need to improve the air service to this island, which is by far the worst served for transport by sea or air of any of the islands in Scotland?
I appreciate the importance of communications to this part of the United Kingdom, but the fact is that both the high operating costs involved and the cost of bringing the airfields back into operation would, in the present circumstances, not be really justified.
On a point of order. You will have observed, Mr. Speaker, that there are several Questions referring to air services as such. When hon. Members have tried to put down Questions relating to rail services and time-tables those Questions are refused. Can you tell me why Questions are allowed about air services and not about rail services?
The answer about rail services is that the position with regard to Questions on nationalised industries has been referred to a Select Committee, which has not yet reported, and at present a provisional system is being worked. That does not apply to these air services.
Eritrea (Giorgio Habtit)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that Azmatch George Habtit, for 40 years Chief in Akele Guzai Province of Eritrea, after suffering damages valued at 74,616 shillings by banditry, was on 6th July, 1951, without explanation or charge of wrongdoing, deported to forced residence at Keren in the Western Province; that he was dismissed from his Chieftainship as from 30th June, 1951, deprived of his stipend and pension, and that his land which has been recognised as his property under customary law, and by the Chika and peasants, has been passed to Ghereghier, a son of Ras Tesemma, leader of the anti-Ethiopian political party, thus leaving his family, including many minor children destitute; and whether he will give orders that this old official shall return to his home and property.
As regards the first part of the Question, careful investigations confirmed that Giorgio Habtit was responsible for instigating repeated acts of violence between 1946 and 1951 upon a neighbouring tribe which resulted in serious loss of life and property. The Chief Administrator therefore thought it necessary, in the interests of public safety and order, to restrict him to residence in the town of Keren in the Western Province under the powers conferred by Proclamation No. 104.As regards the second part of the Question, he has not been dismissed from any chieftainship; but his enforced absence necessitated the transfer of certain powers and duties respecting the allocation of land in the Damas area to other persons. He has not been deprived of any land belonging personally to him but he no longer enjoys the use of certain other lands over which he had control under his former powers. Since Habtit is a person of property, there is no question of his family being left destitute. As regards the third part of the Question, I am informed that the Chief Administrator now considers that the situation permits Habtit's release, which will take place on 15th May.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that will be welcomed by both the man and his family? It seems to me that if he did commit such a crime he should have been tried in the proper courts and given a proper opportunity of defending himself, which apparently was denied him. If so, why were not his rights safeguarded in that way?
I really do not think that this gentleman has had harsh treatment at all. There have been one or two rows between the tribes, in connection with which one tribe was attacked by the tribe with which the man concerned was connected, and 43 persons lost their lives in the ensuing fighting. On the whole I think it has not worked out too badly for the person mentioned in the hon. Member's Question.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what reply he has given to the representations from the French Government about assistance in the defence of Indo-China in the event of an invasion of that country, either direct or indirect, by China.
Her Majesty's Government are in continuous consultation with the French Government on all matters affecting the defence of South-East Asia. If there were an aggression against Indo-China, the French Government and the Government of Vietnam would no doubt appeal to the United Nations. We have made it clear that in such an event Her Majesty's Government would not fail in their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations. As I have myself stated publicly, it would create a situation no less menacing than that which the United Nations met and faced in Korea; and the United Nations would, I trust, be equally firm to resist it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his reply will be received with great satisfaction?
If the French lost hold of the key position in Indo-China, would not a most oppressive burden fall on our defences in South-East Asia, and are we not greatly indebted to the French for the sacrifices in blood and treasure which they are making?
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he understands the phrase in the Question about "indirect" invasion to mean? Is it the sort of thing that is now being done by Chiang Kai-shek's troops in Burma?
It is hardly for me to interpret the questioner's thought. I should have thought he had in mind the sort of thing being done by the Chinese Communists in Korea.
European Defence (British Forces)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the guarantee of Her Majesty's Government to the European Defence Community involves the retention of British Defence Forces in Europe so long as the guarantee operates.
As I informed the House on 21st April, Her Majesty's Government's commitment to provide assistance in the event of attack to all members of the European Defence Community lasts as long as the United Kingdom remains a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The disposition of defence forces under N.A.T.O. is a matter for agreement between the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and the Governments concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that in the White Paper on European defence it is stated that at the Foreign Ministers' Conference both he and the American Secretary of State indicated that it was the policy of both Governments to retain their Forces in Europe. Is that common policy in any way affected by the unilateral guarantee to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred?
No, Sir. I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that question. No, it is not at all affected. What we stated then was that it was our policy to maintain Armed Forces on the Continent of Europe for as long as is necessary, and that pledge still stands.
Does that answer mean that our commitment will operate irrespective of whether American Forces remain in Europe under the present N.A.T.O. arrangements?
The hon. Gentleman will see that our commitment lasts as long as the commitment of N.A.T.O. lasts, and that the disposition of forces during that period is a matter for arrangement between the Supreme Allied Commander and the Governments concerned.
Japan (War Claims)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps he is taking to ensure that those with claims for injuries, personal losses, destruction by war damage and seizure in Japanese-occupied territory, are given precedence over repayment of Japanese bonds and accumulated interest thereon.
The question of the resumption of payments on Japanese bonds is dealt with under Article 18 (b) of the Peace Treaty, in which Japan expresses her intention to enter into negotiations with her creditors. The procedure laid down for dealing with claims under the Treaty is quite different and the question of precedence as between the two does not, I can assure my hon. Friend, arise.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now state the total value of goods, commodities, chattels, etc., removed from Malaya and found in Japan on its occupation by Allied troops in 1945.
Restitution of looted property found in Japan has been proceeding since 1946 under the authority of the Supreme Commander for the allied Powers, and will continue, now that the Japanese Peace Treaty has come into force, under Article 15 (a) of the Treaty. I regret, however, that I am not in a position to give an accurate estimate of the value of Malayan property found in Japan in 1945.
Will my right hon. Friend lend the great weight of his authority to urging that there shall be some acceleration of this process, which has gone on for a very long time and creates great hardship for many who suffered in Malaya?
I should like to look into that.
Ministry Of Food
Tea (Profit Margins)
asked the Minister of Food what are the total margins of profit per lb. on tea between the import price at British docks and the price to the consumer.
In the year ended 31st March, 1952, the average gross margin between the import price as reduced by subsidy and the retail price was about one shilling. This margin has to provide for the working costs of the blenders, packers and wholesale and retail distributors.
Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered the company reports of some of the leading tea importers, blenders and distributors? If so, does he agree that in many cases the profits which are being realised are unreasonable and in some cases fantastic, and is he satisfied that the present price of tea can be justified?
The hon. Member asked me what the profit per lb. was. I should say that the figure which I have given is a perfectly reasonable one when one considers that four different processes have to be covered by the shilling.
Canned Tomatoes And Ham
asked the Minister of Food why he is increasing the tonnage of canned tomatoes and tomato juice imported into this country and reducing the tonnage of canned ham and bacon.
The hon. Member has overlooked the seasonal factor. Imports of canned tomatoes and tomato juice are being reduced as compared with last year.
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that, with the constant withdrawal of sources of real meat for the British public, even a small reduction in the sources of canned meat which supplements the rations is a serious matter? Would he not agree that people would prefer to have even a little canned meat rather than tomato juice, which is largely consumed by the American Forces in this country?
I cannot accept the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. Tomato juice is an extremely popular commodity in this country. As regards meat, naturally we would rather be able to buy more, but I refuse to take any responsibility for that situation at any rate. The actual cuts in canned meat are much less extensive than in the case of the other commodities, which are about 50 per cent. in respect of canned tomatoes and 25 per cent. in respect of the juice.
Jam (Fruit Content)
asked the Minister of Food which of his Regulations define the term full fruit standard used on jam pot labels; what sanctions he has laid down for the enforcement of such standards; and if he is satisfied that they are adequate.
The Food Standards (Presèrves) Order, 1944, as amended. The Order is administered by local food and drugs authorities; and the penalties that may be imposed for contraventions appear fully adequate.
asked the Minister of Food what action he is taking on the recommendation of the Food Standards Committee to increase the fruit content of jam.
None at present. In accordance with normal practice I shall await a further report from the Committee in the light of any representations they may receive on their proposals from interested parties.
Is the Minister aware that the answer will be regarded as particularly sticky, and will he pay particular attention to the fact that both fruit growers and housewives would welcome this step as there would be a closer relation between the contents and the labels on the jam jars than there is at present?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that this is a sticky subject. The procedure here is perfectly normal. The report was received on 22nd April, and the trades concerned are allowed up to 10th May to make representations. This Committee will examine those representations and then the final report will be brought to me.
Food Imports (Standards)
asked the Minister of Food what steps he takes to ensure that the foodstuffs and meat that he imports into this country are comparable with the pre-war standards.
My Department tries to ensure that imports are at least up to pre-war standards of quality, by specification when buying and through inspection on arrival.
Is the Minister satisfied that the meat is adequately inspected before shipment in order to ensure that the carcases are free from disease?
They are certainly inspected, and no carcase with disease would be distributed to the public in this country.
Argentine Meat Negotiations
asked the Minister of Food what progress has been made on the Argentine meat negotiations; and if he will make a statement.
These negotiations are still in their preliminary stages. I shall make a statement at an appropriate time. Meanwhile, the House will be glad to know that, to counteract the adverse effects of last year's drought and to complete their shipments to us under the 1951 Protocol, the Argentine authorities have taken measures both to restrict the domestic consumption of meat and to prohibit sales to other countries.
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that according to "The Times," this is the first time that a big delay has occurred at the beginning of the negotiations, and is it not about time that the negotiations were begun in an effective sense?
The hon. Gentleman is the last one who should make an observation like that. As a matter of fact the last negotiations took over a year.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not started yet.
Leaving out of consideration last year, when it took one year and 10 days—and for that I was not responsible—the negotiations for this year are proceeding in a perfectly normal manner compared with other years.
Can the Minister confirm that the negotiations last year were held up for many months because the Socialist Government could not supply the tin, coal and petroleum at the prices the Argentine were prepared to pay, and that the same problems faced us this year, as they were left to us by the previous Government?
Was there not last year an unfortunate debate on meat which held up the negotiations, and for that the then Opposition were responsible?
asked the Minister of Food which rationed foodstuffs he intends to de-ration.
All of them, eventually.
While being heartened by the Minister's generalisations, may I ask if he does not appreciate that the statements he is repeatedly making in the country about de-rationing are apt to be very misleading, in view of the present economic position?
I do not take responsibility for what appears in the Press. I have not made any statement other than of this character at any time.
What does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman mean by "eventually"? Does he not know that he will not be there eventually?
It is not so long ago since the right hon. Gentleman asked me a similar question about tea. He asked me what did I mean, and I showed him what I meant by quite recently giving him the date.
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that he has made a good start as far as Scotland is concerned by de-controlling haggis last night?
asked the Minister of Food if he can now state whether eggs will be sold off the ration this year.
Not yet, Sir.
asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that the poultry committee of the National Farmers' Union have recommended to his Department that unfertile eggs removed from incubators should be marketed through packing stations for sale as processed liquid; and what action he is taking on this recommendation.
This recommendation has not yet reached me.
Does the Minister realise that better methods of disposing of these eggs are now supported by the National Farmers' Union, the National Federation of Grocers and Provision Dealers and responsible people generally, and how long is he going to sit on this egg problem?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me if I had received a recommendation. I have not received it yet, but I shall receive it, I gather, in a few days. I shall then examine the recommendation. Although I am not unsympathetic to the idea, I cannot do anything until I receive the recommendation.
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that incubated clears are all right for cake making if they are a week old, but if more than a week old they are of use only for political meetings?
Slaughtering Facilities, Norfolk
asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that the arrangements for slaughtering fat stock in Norfolk are now adequate to prevent the holding back of fat animals, particularly bacon pigs, on the farms in the event of serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease; and what steps he has taken to avoid a repetition of the serious hold-up which occurred in November last.
We are as anxious as the producers that delays should be reduced to a minimum and all possible emergency arrangements are made to increase slaughtering capacity in an infected area. But when normal movements of fat stock are interrupted, some delay may be inevitable.
Will the Minister bear in mind the great dislocation that is taking place in the whole of the pig industry in East Anglia because of the few bacon factories in that area, and as we hope to increase the number of pigs there will he try and improve the existing slaughterhouse facilities, some of which are extremely primitive, and will he include in his review the possibility of authorising the building of another bacon factory there?
My hon. Friend knows that the question of a bacon factory in East Anglia is under review at the moment. On the question of slaughterhouses, whilst some are being built at the moment, I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that in the case of a county like Norfolk, a great deal of slaughtering is done outside the county, in the Midlands, and when there are emergencies of this character it is almost impossible to deal with them adequately and completely. If that were to be done we should have to build more slaughterhouses in the country than we could possibly maintain. I might add that I fully appreciate all the considerations in this matter.
Potato Disposal (Loss)
asked the Minister of Food what loss he estimates will be incurred by his Department in disposing of 460,000 tons of 1951 main crop potatoes for stock feeding.
About £3,500,000, including overheads.
Will the Minister give an assurance that this really substantial loss will not be recouped by a further cut in the subsidy on some other item of staple food?
This is a perfectly normal procedure under the guarantee of the 1947 Act, and it has been followed by previous Governments for some years.
Is it not a fact that this loss is very much smaller than the loss in 1948, when Polish potatoes were imported at £26 a ton and allowed to rot completely?
Home-Produced Meat (Freezing)
asked the Minister of Food what steps he is taking to establish or increase refrigeration capacity in this country to store the increasing amount of home-produced meat fattened on grass.
Present restrictions on capital investment would prevent us from constructing new freezing plants for this purpose, but I have arranged to have some experimental work done with the limited facilities already available.
Now that we have a proper agricultural policy can we not expect more home produced meat? Is the Minister aware that farmers, appreciating the feedingstuffs supplies' position, are feeding and fattening their cattle off grass; that, therefore, more cattle are likely to be available in the seasons of the year when grass is growing; and that is a very important question for the future of agriculture?
I do not think that large-scale freezing has ever been done on a commercial basis in this country before, and it represents a very big capital expenditure item. However, other steps are being taken, such as the holding back of cattle at the height of the autumn flush, which I hope will have a very good effect.
Agricultural Prices Review (Cost Of Living)
asked the Minister of Food how the new farm prices have affected the 1s. 6d. per week increase in food prices previously announced.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to the hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on 29th April by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
asked the Minister of Food if he will give a list of the foods that will increase in price resulting from the annual review of farm prices; and the amount of such increases in each case.
In making the price increases necessary to bring the food subsidy figure down to a rate of £250 million a year I have to take into account the cost of imported foods as well as the farm prices resulting from the annual review. In opening his Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer listed the foods to be increased in price, and I will announce the amounts of the increases at the appropriate time.
Is the Minister aware that most of the lower-paid population of this country are of the opinion that the policy of this Government is to bring about de-rationing by increasing prices to such an extent that the poor people will not be able to take their rations? Will he give an assurance that the Government will not de-ration at the expense of the poor people?
On the contrary, we have taken steps to alleviate some of the hardship. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]I am wondering whether the hon. Gentleman had the same views when prices were increased early last year.
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that with the continual rise in the cost of living and of rationed foodstuffs, and the increase in unemployment, many families cannot now afford to take the rations, and that the rich are getting more than they are entitled to? Is it not time that the Government did something about that situation?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I gave an answer last week to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), in which I said that the average increase over the whole weekly ration since last October was 2¼d. The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating slightly.
In view of the confusion which appears to have arisen on this subject, will my right hon. and gallant Friend take steps to see that the facts are made widely known throughout the country, quite apart from publication in HANSARD?
Bread (Flour Consumption)
asked the Minister of Food what is the total weekly sackage of flour used throughout the country and the proportion of this used for the baking of bread.
The current weekly useage of flour in the United Kingdom is about 728,000 sacks of 280 lb. Approximately 62 per cent. is used for breadmaking.
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that at the existing price and existing subsidy rates many small bakers are finding it increasingly difficult to carry on business, and will he give special attention to affording them some alleviation so that they can carry on with their task?
I am fully aware of the difficulties that small bakeries are experiencing, and certain steps have been taken to alleviate the position. I hope that the speeding up of the payment of the subsidy will help the small bakery trade.
asked the Minister of Food whether he will consider permitting sweet coupons to be used to obtain additional sugar in lieu of sweets.
I regret that this is not a practicable arrangement.
Can my right hon. and gallant Friend hold out any hope of an increase in the sugar ration later in the year to enable housewives to make jam?
There would be no difficulty about getting sugar if we had the currency. The one source of supply from which we could get enough is entirely a dollar one.
Does that mean that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not intend to de-ration sugar, at any rate this year?
I cannot say whether it will be this year or not, but it will be done as soon as we have cleared up the mess left by right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
In view of the fact that it is possible to exchange sugar for sweets does not my right hon. and gallant Friend not think that it would be possible for us to give up our sweet ration for extra sugar?
In any circumstances that scheme would be bound to involve extra purchases of sugar and the administration of it would be extremely difficult. It would make the matter more complicated and cumbersome, and more difficult to get rid of eventually.
Ministry Of Defence
Commonwealth Forces (Transfer Of British Personnel)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence whether he will make arrangements to permit members of Her Majesty's Forces who marry members of Commonwealth countries to transfer automatically if they so wish to the Forces of the country concerned.
As I informed my hon. Friend on 9th April, applications from serving personnel of the British Forces to join Commonwealth Forces are considered on their merits. It would not be possible to grant applications automatically in the circumstances he mentions, as it would depend, among other things, on the willingness of the Commonwealth Governments to accept those who wish to transfer, and our ability to release them.
Guided Missile Sites (Detection)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence if he has yet laid down the spheres of responsibility as between the Service Departments for the detection of the launching sites if, and when, guided missiles are directed against this country.
Yes, Sir. This responsibility will rest with the Air Ministry.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I asked this Question on 7th March and 27th June last year of the former Minister of Defence, and that on both occasions I was told that the matter was being examined; and that it will give a sense of confidence that at last a decision is being made?
I am glad that the persistence of my hon. Friend has been rewarded.
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that it is precisely because there was a careful examination that the Minister is now in a position to give a decision.
Japanese Imports, Nigeria
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies on what basis licences are granted to the Japanese to enable them to import textile fabrics into Lagos.
The Nigerian authorities have been issuing licences to import Japanese textiles to meet the territory's essential needs. Import policy is now, however, being reviewed in the light of the balance of payments of the sterling area and the experience of the working of the Payments Agreement between the sterling area and Japan. The possibilities of increasing the exports of Lancashire textiles to the Colonies are also being urgently examined.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for his answer, may I ask him to bear in mind that the Japanese are copying British designs in textiles and exporting to West Africa, and that the advice given by his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is that the industry of Lancashire should take legal action in West Africa? Will my right hon. Friend deal with this matter at the source in West Africa, because otherwise such action is very expensive and often does not work at all?
I am willing to consult with the President of the Board of Trade about the appropriate measures.
Gold Coast Civil Service (Pay)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what steps he is taking in respect of the claims of the white civil servants in the Gold Coast for increases in salary to meet the rising cost of living and for the retention of their expatriate allowances.
The Commission appointed by my predecessor in September, 1950, to make recommendations on certain questions including the salaries of the Gold Coast Civil Service reported last August. My predecessor commended this report to the Gold Coast Government, and it has since been under consideration by a Select Committee of the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly. The Assembly adopted the Select Committee's recommendations on 23rd April and the new improved salaries are being introduced as from 1st April, 1952.The new scales provide for increases over existing salaries, plus present cost of living allowance, and are generally higher than those recommended by the original Commission in order to take some account of the further rise in the cost of living which has occurred since the Commission reported. I have not yet been able to consider the Select Committee's Report in full, but I understand that overseas pay has been retained except for posts at the highest levels where basic and overseas pay have been consolidated.
Sierra Leone (Regent Chief)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will appoint a committee of inquiry to investigate the situation within the Small Bo tribal authority of Sierra Leone since S. Kata was appointed Regent Chief in view of the opposition to his appointment.
As I told the hon. Member in reply to a letter which he sent to me on 3rd April, the power to make such an appointment is vested in the Governor, who has informed me that the great majority both of the inhabitants and of the members of the tribal authority are not opposed to the Acting Chief, and that conditions generally are peaceful. In considering whether or not a commission of inquiry should be appointed, the Governor will be guided by the advice of the Executive Council, in which there is a majority of African members.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that, according to the information I passed to him at least three weeks ago, the taxing authorities are having difficulty in finding males in this territory because they have all gone to other territories as a protest against the present arrangements? Will he again ask the Governor to look into this matter?
The Governor is now considering whether a commission of inquiry is appropriate.
Central African Federation
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the agenda for the forthcoming conference in London on Central African Federation; when and where it will take place; and who the delegates are, both white and coloured, who will participate in it.
I presume that the hon. Member refers to the Conference now being held in London.
I explained its purpose in yesterday's debate. I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of the delegates.
There was one thing which the right hon. Gentleman did not explain yesterday, and I should like to ask him this question. In view of the serious differences of opinion between black and white and between Southern Rhodesia and the other two territories involved, how does the right hon. Gentleman propose to implement a federation without imposing the views of a very small minority on a very large majority?
The question in no way concerns that which is on the Order Paper, and raises matters which I could not deal with by way of question and answer.
On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that my supplementary question in no way deals with the Question on the Order Paper. That Question deals with the agenda for the Conference, and my supplementary question deals with that too. Am I not, therefore, entitled to an answer?
Though the original Question on the Paper refers to the agenda, the hon. and learned Gentleman is not entitled to ask a question about any conceivable subject that may appear upon it.
Following is the list of delegates:
The Rt. hon. Sir Godfrey Huggins, C.H., K.C.M.G., M.P.; the hon. E. C. F. Whitehead, C.M.G., O.B.E., MP; the hon J M Greenfield, Q.C., M.P.; the hon. P. B. Fletcher; Mr. R. O. Stockil, M.P.; Mr. W. H. Eastwood, M.P.; Mr. A. H. Strachan, C.B.E.; Mr. T. G. Gisborne; Mr. A. D. Evans, M.B.E.; Mr. W. F. Nicholas; Mr. J. N. N. Nkomo and Mr. J. Z. Savanhu.
Sir Gilbert Rennie, K.C.M.G., M.C.; Mr. E. I. G. Unsworth, Q.C.; Mr. R. P. Bush, O.B.E.; Mr. R. Welensky, C.M.G., M.L.C.; Mr. G. B. Beckett, C.M.G., M.L.C.; Lieut.-Colonel E. M. Wilson, M.B.E., M.L.C.; Mr. J. S. Moffatt, O.B.E., M.L.C.; Mr. R. A. Nicholson; Mr. J. E. Coombes and Major R. T. Hungerford.
Sir Geoffrey Colby, K.C.M.G.; Mr. V. Fox-Strangways; Mr. M. P. Barrow, C.B.E.; Mr. G. G. S. J. Hadlow, O.B.E.; Mr. J. Marshall, O.B.E., M.C. and Mr. K. O. Shelford.
Central African Council.
Mr. H. N. Parry.
The Most hon. the Marquess of Salisbury, K.G.; the right hon. Oliver Lyttelton, D.S.O., M.C., M.P.; the right hon. A. T. Lennox-Boyd, M.P.; Mr. J. G. Foster, Q.C., M.P.; Sir Percivale Liesching, G.C.M.G., K.C.B.; Sir Thomas Lloyd, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.; Mr. G. H. Baxter, C.M.G., C.I.E.; Mr. W. L. Gorell Barnes, C.M.G.; Mr. J. B. Williams, C.M.G.; Mr. E. Melville, C.M.G.; Mr. J. P. Gibson, C.B.E.; Mr. A. W. Snelling; Mr. J. E. Marnham and Mr. R. L. D. Jasper.
Destruction Of Crops
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if General Templer's threat to destroy crops in Malaya by chemical means was made with his approval.
Yes, Sir. Destruction of crops grown for the terrorists or likely to fall into their hands is a preventive measure of which, of course, I approve.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister of State last Wednesday stated that this threat, as he himself admitted, applied to all crops which might fall into the hands of the terrorists, and are we to understand quite clearly that this applies to and includes crops grown by the villagers?
Generally speaking, that is not so. Of course it depends upon the actual circumstances and it is easy to find out what crops are grown for the terrorists. Where there is doubt it is always decided in favour of the villagers.
Further to that point. For the benefit of the House could not the right hon. Gentleman make it clear whether or not this threat is to apply, or is not to apply, to those crops which are grown for the sustenance of the villagers in Malaya?
I can give the hon. Member an unequivocal answer to that couched in general terms. The answer is "No." We have to be satisfied that they are being grown for the terrorists or in some place where the terrorists are compelling the inhabitants to grow crops for them.
Is it not desirable that hon. Members of this House should give the Commander-in-Chief their support in his efforts to protect the lives of our men and in his attempts to bring this war to a successful conclusion, instead of putting down Questions on the Order Paper like this one, which only tend to destroy confidence?
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would give the greatest possible support to the Commander-in-Chief if his Government would have the courage to give political status to the Chinese and now offer a date for independence?
That raises questions which are not concerned at all with the Question on the Order Paper.
It would be much more effective.
Tanjong Malim (Collective Punishment)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies how far relief for the people of Tanjong Malim, Malaya, arising out of the curfew, has been left to charitable organisations and how far it has been undertaken by the Government; to what extent the supply of food is adequate; what attention is given to the villagers' cattle during the curfew period; and when the curfew will be lifted.
Local communal organisations provided relief for the poorer inhabitants of Tanjong Malim. It has not proved necessary for the Government to give relief. The supply of food is adequate. The 22-hour house curfew was lifted on 9th April. There is now a house curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. over the whole area and a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. in some districts. During the period of daytime curfew, arrangements were made, at the villagers' request, for cattle to be brought within the perimeter area and owners were allowed out each morning and evening to care for them.
While it will give some satisfaction to right-thinking people that the curfew has been withdrawn for at least some period, is the Minister aware that the period of the curfew was for 22 out of 24 hours; that people live four and five in a room and were not allowed to leave their houses to go to an outside latrine, and were fined 50 dollars for so doing—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to ask a supplementary question which is nothing but an effort to pass on information?
In general, supplementary questions should be interrogatory, but I have known them used as a vehicle for imparting information. Mr. Awbery.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is because of the requests of the Chinese, the Malays and the Indians that the curfew has been reduced by several hours?
I have no information upon that. I only say that the curfew has been reduced—
At their request?
I have no information that it was at their request. I only know that it has been reduced, and I would remind the hon. Member that these measures are far less severe than those taken in similar cases by our predecessors.
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what have been the results of the system of collective punishment on Tanjong Malim in bringing about greater co-operation from the people; and if he will give instructions that, in future, collective punishment should not be used.
Useful information has been received but it is as yet too soon to assess the full results of the measures taken at Tanjong Malim. I have no intention of interfering with General Templer's reasonable exercise of the discretion entrusted to him to deal with the very serious situation in Malaya.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this form of collective punishment is very repugnant to right-thinking people—
—and that this method is causing hostility against the Government among the people of Malaya? Is he doing all he can to protect the people during the period of the curfew?
The answer to the second part of the question is, "Yes." Wherever we can, we are endeavouring to improve the wire round these new villages.
While it is undesirable to cause embarrassment to General Templer, who has been appointed to undertake this difficult task, will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is desirable, on the other hand, that General Templer should proceed with the utmost caution in enforcing collective punishment, which may not be at all efficacious?
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that these measures are not primarily punitive. They are in the main in order to prevent rice being passed through the wire to the bandits, and also to control movement in these black spots. I repeat that they are much less severe than some measures which have been taken in the past.
While I quite appreciate the difficulty, may I beg the right hon. Gentleman to understand that many of us, while not wishing to cause any embarrassment to General Templer, are anxious that he should not proceed in a direction which may have very serious repercussions?
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman asked that question. I say freely that the use of these measures has to be confined to places where demonstrably the inhabitants are helping the terrorists against our Forces in a way they should not. They will not be applied in a wholesale manner or without careful consideration of the circumstances. I hope that re-assures the right hon. Gentleman.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that as new collective methods by the bandits, both of mass murder and of helping their own supporters, come into operation, equally new methods have to be taken against them?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that repressive measures on a collective scale of this kind have always had the effect, not of reducing resistance to them, but of increasing it? Is he also aware that there is no war crime in history that has not been justified by the doctrine of giving unquestioning, blind support to the commander in the field?
I can accept neither suggestion of the hon. Member. I am afraid each is founded on ignorance of the circumstances.
Police Officer (Wife's Allowance)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why he refuses to take any action in the case of Lieutenant Birnie of the Malayan Police who is receiving pay at married rates but refuses to pay to his wife Mrs. A. C. Birnie, Hove, the married increment which he is receiving; why he has failed to take steps to bring home to this officer his obligation to provide adequate main-enance for his wife out of the resources available to him; upon what grounds he justifies this misapplication of public funds; and whether, if this officer continues to appropriate to himself money intended for his wife's support, payment of such increment will be stopped.
I have no jurisdiction in this matter and there has been no misapplication of public funds. Lieutenant Birnie has been paid strictly in accordance with the terms of his service as set out in his contract with the Government of the Federation of Malaya.The question of his allotment to his wife was brought to Lieutenant Birnie's attention by the Malayan authorities but he said that he was not prepared to increase the allotment to which his wife is entitled under their voluntary separation agreement. Any variation in the amount is a matter for mutual agreement or for the courts.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is not a solitary case? There are many similar instances in which his Department is being lamentably spineless. Will he take the necessary action to bring home to the officers responsible for the support of their wives that money provided for them out of public funds is intended for that purpose?
I am afraid I can do nothing in matters over which I have no jurisdiction.
Commonwealth Defence Contributions
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies upon what basis and by which Colonies a Commonwealth defence contribution is paid.
Colonial territories make their main contribution towards Commonwealth defence by maintaining local forces adequate to ensure internal security and local defence, and in some cases by providing lands and services for United Kingdom Forces. This absorbs, or more than absorbs, all the funds which most territories can provide for defence, having regard to their other commitments.When a territory is financially able to meet these obligations and also make a contribution towards the general Commonwealth defence expenditure borne by the United Kingdom, the amount of the contribution is arrived at by discussion between the colonial Government and Her Majesty's Government. Bermuda and Hong Kong make such contributions.
Ballot For Notices Of Motions
I beg to give notice that on Friday, 16th May, I shall call attention to the claim for equal pay for women in Government service, and move a Resolution.
Diversion Of Foodstuffs (Brewing Industry)
I beg to give notice that on Friday, 16th May, I shall call attention to the diversion of foodstuffs to the manufacture of alcoholic beverages, and move a Resolution.
I beg to give notice that on Friday, 16th May, I shall call attention to the need for the maintenance and expansion of technical education services, and move a Resolution.
Orders Of The Day
Considered in Committee.
[Colonel SIR CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
Clause 1—(Hydrocarbon Oils, Etc)
The first two Amendments on the Order Paper are unduly wide but do not quite amount to negativing the Clause. I shall, therefore, select the first Amendment, on the understanding that when the dozen or so Amendments which are designed to make exceptions are reached, those selected will not be debated at much length. I respectfully remind the Committee that, under Standing Order 45, the Chairman may put forthwith the Question that the Clause stand part if he is of the opinion that the principle of the Clause has been adequately discussed.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out subsection (1).I take note of what you have said. Sir Charles. It seems to be that it would be to the convenience of both sides of the Committee that we should discuss the first Amendment and should have a general debate on the subject of the petrol tax. We have put down the Amendment and we mean to press it, because, briefly, in our view the petrol tax, after last year's Budget, had gone high enough, and because it is extraordinary that hon. Members opposite should this year support this further increase after their repeated condemnations of the increases that we made in 1950 and 1951. In particular, the present Leader of the House fulminated at great length last year against the whole idea of raising the petrol tax at all, and I shall quote some of his remarks. I believe that the increases that we made in 1950 and 1951 were right at the time, on the grounds that I then gave; but for that very reason the tax had gone high enough by last year. Indeed, if the same tax is raised twice in successive years, that in itself is a good reason against further raising it in the third year. It is, at any rate, more consistent and logical to argue that the tax ought to have gone up from 9d. to 1s. 10½d. a gallon, but should not go further, than to argue, as do hon. Members opposite, that it never ought to have gone up from 9d. to 1s. 10½d., but should now go up from 1s. 10½d. to 2s. 6d. The situation is different this year in several relevant ways. First, in 1950 and 1951 we were maintaining the food subsidies in order to avoid a steep rise in the cost of living. This time, however, the Government at once push up the cost of food by cutting the food subsidies and the cost of fares by raising the petrol tax. There might have been a case—indeed. I said so before the Budget—for raising this tax to provide revenue for maintaining or increasing the food subsidies. But there is absolutely none if a cut is being made in the food subsidies at the same time. Secondly, there is this difference. In the previous two years we had to provide extra revenue either to cover an inflationary gap or for the sake of re-armament. Indeed, it was mainly for financing rearmament that I argued in favour of a rise in the tax a year ago. But this year, the Government did not have to do that at all, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself admits. In our view, the Chancellor need have raised less revenue this year, because he is both indulging in wasteful expenditure, which I will specify, and giving away some revenue unnecessarily. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer asks where we would obtain the revenue which he intends to get from this tax, the answer is quite clear—and this, incidentally, applies to all our proposals for tax relief and not merely to the petrol tax alone. First, we would not have added £75 or £80 million to the cost of interest paid by the Government, which is largely in addition to the receipts of banks and other lending firms, and is, in our view, quite unnecessary in order to achieve the restriction of credit which we agree to be desirable. We think that the Chancellor should stop wasting this £80 million and should stop putting this extra burden on the taxpayer in order to meet it. Secondly, we do not think that the Chancellor need have given the big tax reliefs in the Budget to people with four-figure incomes and upwards. Thirdly, whereas until last year the price of petrol was well below the average price abroad—and that was another of the reasons which I gave in support of the increases—the present increase of 7½d. in the tax takes the price of petrol, if anything, rather above the average retail price in other countries. I think it is a perfectly relevant argument to point out that in earlier years petrol was still cheaper here than abroad on the average. At the present price of 4s. 3d. a gallon here after the increase this year, the Government have raised it as high as in a number of European countries and, of course, a long way above that of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and North America. The average price abroad at the moment, I understand, is 3s. 9d., compared with the 4s. 3d. charged in this country. But we object most of all to this further steep rise in the tax this year, at a time when food prices have also been forced up by the Government, because this further action by the Chancellor will tend to push up bus fares all over the country. Is it not really rather extraordinary that at one and the same time the Chancellor raises food prices by withdrawing a subsidy, the Prime Minister sallies forth as a champion of cheap transport, and the Chancellor raises fares by pushing up the petrol tax. Perhaps, however, this is not so extraordinary in a Government which has a remarkable record of muddle in every field of administration. The British Road Federation, which represents a number of road and motoring organisations, thinks that the Tory Party in this matter has rather let it down. The Federation, in a letter to the Chancellor on 26th March, said that as the Conservative Party voted against the previous increases in 1950 and 1951 the Federation "not unreasonably hoped"—those are its words—that it would get some relief on this occasion. Even more pertinent, I think, the Federation goes on to say that the action of the Chancellor in raising this tax was—and I again quote their words:
That was the notorious statement from Downing Street, just before the Budget"patently inconsistent with the concern shown by the Government in its statement of last Friday."
Surely we are entitled to ask: "Did the Prime Minister, when he put out this electioneering effort on 7th March, know that the Chancellor was just going to raise the petrol tax? Or alternatively, did the Chancellor, I wonder, know that the Prime Minister was launching this disingenuous statement about fares? Possibly—I do not know—it may have been Lord Cherwell who issued it without consulting the Prime Minister, or the Chancellor, or the Minister of Transport, who, of course, would not have been let into the secret at all. It came, we must remember, from Downing Street. Perhaps the truth is that we now have a Cabinet so overloaded with overlords, including one overlord specifically for public relations, that this sort of chaos is the only thing one could expect. While the Prime Minister was indulging in these electioneering sorties and posing as a champion of cheap fares, the Chancellor was pushing them up by this tax. For a very high proportion of the extra revenue from this tax will, in fact, be an addition to the cost of omnibus transport, of commercial transport, of agricultural production of one kind and another and of actual outright industrial production in a number of industries. The extra 7½d. will, according to my calculations—the Government can say if this is right—bring in another £51 million specifically from motor spirit, 85 per cent. of which is commercially consumed. But as much as £10 million will come from Diesel oil and about two-thirds of that represents buses and coaches and one-third goods vehicles. Of that £10 million, I understand, over £1 million will be an increase in the cost of London Transport vehicles. The British Road Federation again put it this way, that"disclaiming any responsibility for the increase in the London fares."
Other bus services throughout the country, passenger road services, will pay £5 million or £6 million more—on Diesel oil alone, without counting ordinary motor spirit. 3.45 p.m. The Public Transport Association, which also represents a number of bus associations, have stated publicly that as a result the new increase in tax will mean"the increased tax will prejudice the ability of London Transport to make the adjustment in London fares for which there has been such a large and determined outcry."
and particularly and positively that it will cause"a fresh and inevitable cycle of applications to raise fares throughout the country"
That statement was made only last week. But it is not merely the transport experts who told us that this tax increase must mean higher fares. I can quote even higher authority. The present Leader of the House was very emphatic a year ago in arguing that the effect of the 4½d. increased tax would mean higher costs of transport. Indeed, he asked my right hon. Friend, who was then Chancellor,"all round increases in provincial fares."
The Leader of the House then told us that the rise of only 4½d. in the duty would mean an increase of ½d. per car mile in the cost of London bus traffic, and only a fraction less in the cost of buses elsewhere. This year's rise of 7½d. in the duty therefore, strangely enough, will push up costs rather more. The Leader of the House also said that the 4½d. increase would cost the Road Haulage Association £3 million this year it is going to be £5 million—British Road Services £1,500,000—this year that will be £2,500,000—and the charges, he said, would have to go up by 2 per cent. to 3 per cent. as a result. This year it means about a 3¾ per cent. further rise on the cost of the Road Haulage Association. The right hon. Gentleman was by no means alone among hon. Members opposite in deploring the effects of the rise of the tax last year. The present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who no doubt is often consulted by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and, perhaps, even by Lord Leathers—I do not know—on these matters—said that this increased petrol tax,"Does he really think that there has been no damage to anybody and to the motoring industry in particular by the increase in the duty which was imposed last year? … Has he not heard of increased bus fares? … Has he not heard of the increased transport rates, or has he been asleep since last year?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th June, 1951; Vol. 488, c. 821.]
Of course, he used that as an argument against increasing the petrol tax, but, as the Chancellor seemed to think in the Budget that higher food prices are a good thing, he may take that as an argument in favour of it. Then there is the Minister of Works, whom we ought not to forget, although I understand he is not much consulted about economic policy by the Chancellor at the present time. He said about the petrol tax last year:"is, in fact, a food tax, and a food tax of an onerous character which will reflect itself, without the slightest doubt, as the months go by."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 5th June, 1951; Vol. 488, c. 826.]
He then got even more eloquent and went on:"As the cost of living goes up month by month, the situation becomes so dangerous that it must be wrong deliberately and as an act of Government policy to add to the cost of an item like transport which enters into the cost of re-armament both directly and indirectly through its effect upon other prices."
So in his view if he votes for this increase tonight he will be voting, on his argument, for a depreciation in the £. Then there is the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) who I see is with us and who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) remarked, executed a remarkable double somersault which is surprising even for such a stern and unbending Tory as the noble Lord. He wanted the tax to go up in 1948—I think I have it right—down in 1951 and I presume he is going to support it going up again in 1952. Finally, we have the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). He threw all caution to the winds. He said, "I shall vote with great joy against this increase in the tax tonight.""Those who vote for this duty tonight will be voting for a depreciation in our money."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th June, 1951; Vol. 488, c. 833.]
The hon. Gentleman must quote me correctly. I said I should vote with great joy and great energy against it.
I did not want to lay it on too thick. I hope that both his joy and his energy will be unconfined in voting for the tax increase this evening.We should remember throughout this debate that the price of petrol has, nowadays, a profound effect on transport generally, on aviation, on agriculture and on the production of certain special industries, including paint, linoleum, dyestuffs, rubber goods and so forth; and also on certain special cases such as disabled persons who use invalid chairs. When the tax is at a low level, it is so spread out as perhaps not to matter very greatly in this respect. That was, to some extent, the view we took two or three years ago. But when it rises to the extremely high level represented by this further jump from 1s. 10½d. to 2s. 6d., all these difficulties begin to be much more serious. We have put down various Amendments, which will doubtless be discussed later, referring to the possibility of help in these special cases which have been made the more acute by this year's increase. There are very serious administrative difficulties, as I very well understand, and which I have endeavoured to explain in the past, about meeting these various cases. But we have put down these Amendments because we believe that with the higher tax it is at any rate the duty of the Government and of hon. Members on this side of the Committee to scrutinise these difficulties very carefully indeed, and to make sure that we have done everything possible to meet them. In particular, I would commend to the attention of the hon. Gentleman a scheme which we introduced last year for giving a rebate on the export of products of industries like the paint and linoleum industry which have to pay tax on raw materials for their production. I hope he may be able to tell us that the Government have carried that further, though my information is that it has not had as extensive an effect as I hoped it would when I introduced it last year. But the clear issue on the main increase in the tax is this. Here is a case where the Government are deliberately and gratuitously—at the same time as they are also deliberately raising food prices—raising the cost of transport and making inevitable a new rise in fares and charges later on, even if they try to stop it when that time comes. We say that is unnecessary and, in the circumstances of this year, completely wrong. It is because Parliament can here do something concrete and effective in helping to keep down fares, instead of indulging in empty electioneering gestures and charging at windmills, like the Prime Minister, that we have put down this Amendment and intend to press it to a Division.
I rise with very great diffidence, because many of us on both sides of the Committee are much worried about this increase in the petrol tax. I should like to be assured that this is only a temporary measure, because the repercussions of this increase over the country will be devastating in their effect.We have been told by each Chancellor that it was a question of saving dollars, or our currency. But what is the actual effect of the imposition of any increase? It has very little effect, in fact none, on the saving of dollars and practically none on the saving of our own currency. That must be so, because 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. of the consumption is absolutely vital to the carrying on of the business of this country. The consumption by public transport, commercial undertakings, and the various other sources of national activity, amount to roughly 85 per cent. of the total consumption. The 15 per cent. left is all that can be affected by the increased price. That 15 per cent. includes commercial travellers and doctors, and there is no possibility at any time of saving any more than 10 per cent. on the consumption. That is proved by the figures that we have year after year, and so it does not have the effect we are told it will have. It does not save dollars or currency. What is the effect on the economic life of the country? At the moment we in Parliament are being harassed and bombarded by demands from public and private undertakings to be allowed to increase their charges, and these cannot be refuted. They are the effect, or the partial effect, of the last tax increase imposed by the previous Government. When we consider that, out of the 4s. 3d. charged for petrol, 2s. 6d. is duty, it must have a tremendous repercussion throughout our national life. It will cost the Glasgow Corporation another £2,000 a week or £100,000 a year. If it were possible at this moment to take off the petrol tax entirely, that is, the 2s. 6d. per gallon, the public transport undertaking in Glasgow would find their worries disappear. They would not require to put up fares at all. It must have been after very careful thought, therefore, that the Government have decided at this time that the tax is absolutely necessary. But we want to be assured of that. The public demand is that fares shall stay where they are. Each undertaking is wondering how it can make ends meet. I suggest that it is impossible to take £1,250,000 per week from the national economy and not feel the effect in every sphere of consumption of light hydrocarbon oils. I do not want to go into a lot of figures suggesting what might be done with the money that is involved, or to suggest that we might do something else, but I would say that we ought to be thoroughly assured that this particular tax is absolutely necessary, that it is vitally important that it should be imposed at this time, and that it will be revised at a very early date. I make that suggestion to the Chancellor.
I am very pleased indeed to follow the hon. Member for Woodside (Mr. W. G. Bennett) because he has shown that in Scotland, at least, there is great antipathy towards this increase. I want to reinforce the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) who opened this discussion, but I want also to state a special case—the case of the indigenous oil production in Scotland.These oils are extracted from our own native oil shale measures, which stretch from Fife down through the Lothians into Peeblesshire. There are estimated reserves of 500 million tons, which may well be the saving of this country. Fifty years ago, the news of the laying bare of the Torbane Hill and the Drum-gray measures, carried as much significance as the news of a great oil strike in Alberta or Texas today. Names such as Oakbank, Pumpherston and West Calder were names to conjure with in Scotland, and the names of Dr. Young and James Ross were household words. These halcyon days lasted right up to 1912, when the industry felt the cold blast of foreign competition from the free gusher wells of the Middle East and America. In 1914, at the outbreak of the war, there was a slight rejuvenation of the industry, and in 1919 Scottish Oils, Ltd., was formed. But, by 1920, the industry was in the toils, and received a blow from which it never recovered, and here opens a sordid chapter of Scottish industrial history which is probably unequalled in industrial history in the world. No industry, probably, suffered so much privation as the Scottish oil industry, and no section of the industrial working class in Britain experienced such privation and vicissitudes as the workers in this industry. The industry has a history of courage, initiative, bravery, loyalty and devotion to that particular part of the country. Although the workers in it suffered from unemployment, and sometimes 30 per cent. of the industry was cut down, and there would be three weeks of work and one week idle, although the workers accepted the heaviest cuts in wages which operated in the whole of industry, and although 10,000 men were reduced to 5,000, they still hung on, believing in better times. When I say that 19 buses leave one of the oil towns before nine o'clock every morning, one realises just what these people have to do in order to get a living, because they have the "bump of locality" well developed. The workers in 1926 even accepted the return of the eight-hour day in order to try to get the industry going again. Successive Presidents of the Board of Trade and succeeding Chancellors of the Exchequer have recognised and conceded that special treatment is required for this great and essential industry. The Budgets of 1934 and 1938 gave evidence of this, and today I am asking the Chancellor to give special attention again to this particular industry. It is perfectly true to say that it is a small industry, but its by-products are very essential to the carrying on of life in this country. Not only do we produce heavy oils, but also the high octane spirit which is so necessary for this country in an emergency. Unemployment was such in this particular part of Scotland as late as 1949 that the then Secretary of State for Scotland issued an order under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1949, but nothing was done. Although our people are paid less than any other section of the mining community, they run the same risks as people working in the coalfield as seen at Burngrange, West Calder, where there was a terrible disaster in recent years. Still they hang on to their industry, believing that the Government will one day utilise the Distribution of Industry Act and again supply them with the necessary employment. These shale measures can be exploited to the great benefit of this country, because the day may come, and that not very far distant, when it will be impossible to bring oil from across the seas. Today, we are dependent on the generosity of Arab sheikhs, when we could exploit our own natural resources. I am, therefore, going to ask the Chancellor to see to it that these people are assured of work, because they apprehend that the operation of this Clause will cause unemployment. If we lose these men, we lose them for all time. Do not let us imagine for a moment that it will be possible to absorb them in the rearmament programme, because any rearmament work in Scotland is far away from the oil district, and if we lose these men we shall lose them to the Colonies and they will have gone away for all time, so that the oil industry in Scotland will be doomed. I appeal to the Chancellor to treat us a little more generously than was evinced last night, because not one contract for serge making has gone beyond the border of Scotland. I hope and trust that the Chancellor will remember that, while London may be London, Scotland is Scotland, and if we do not get justice in London, we will get it in Edinburgh.
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) in regard to the specialised industry to which he referred. Perhaps an opportunity may arise later for other how Members to refer to certain effects on certain industries, but I should like to address my remarks to the difficulty which I personally find in reconciling this further increase with what we have said on previous occasions.In the last three Budgets, the duty on petrol has been raised, and the effect on distribution and in the increased cost of transport has been very strongly felt throughout the country. In my own limited way, I have expressed my very strong feelings on this matter, and I am coming very strongly to the conclusion that this is a tax which it is far too easy for any Chancellor to apply, because undoubtedly it is only a question of putting up the price and a further tax will be paid from a very generous source. I recognise that the circumstances have changed, as indeed we all recognise, but we cannot get away from the fact that, by adding this further burden of the increased tax on petrol, we are putting up the cost of transport on all sides. It is approximately true to say that 80 per cent. of this burden falls upon transport generally, and that, over the last five or six years, the transport bill of any corporation has virtually doubled itself. It is now becoming a very alarming feature of the cost of any item manufactured and of delivering it to the consumer. I do not suppose there is one single industry which does not use motorised transport at some stage of its manufacturing requirements. Accordingly, this burden is shared all the way round. We in industry know that it is not always easy to add the actual increase to a particular item of costing. It is a question of finishing and rounding off the charge when the time comes. Sometimes a company may not pass on the whole of the extra burden it has to stand, but in many cases slightly more is put on to round off the figure. The final effect of such an increase is to add to the burden of the cost of living, and I very sincerely regret that it was found necessary in this Budget to levy this additional tax, in view of the fact that the price of petrol has been increased in the last three Budgets. Reference has been made to the effect of this increase on fares generally. The burden of the increase in fares has been borne mainly by London. I know that transport from London reaches out to Southend and other districts, but in my constituency of Croydon, North, people have had to bear fare increases, not of 40 per cent., but of as much as 80 and 100 per cent. I have received over 150 letters from constituents complaining of this fact. At some stage or other this additional burden, however one may try to alter costing, must be passed on to the public. It is essential that the Chancellor should realise that if this increase in the price of petrol has to be levied, it is something of which we want to hear the end in future years. We have reached the stage when we know that with the appearance of each successive Budget we are going to have an increase in the cost of petrol. If the ordinary car user finds things getting tight and difficult, he may decide to use his car a little less often. He may find the answer to his difficulty by using his car every two or three Sundays instead of every Sunday. But that sort of retrenchment cannot be applied in the case of transport generally, and the extra cost has to be added to the cost of articles manufactured and to general transport, and it eventually results in higher prices all round. I think this is a most dangerous tax. It will add to the burdens of industry, which has already experienced serious increases in its transport charges. Over the last five or six years transport has gone up out of all proportion, and therefore I should like to have a definite assurance from the Chancellor that petrol will not be further taxed in each successive Budget. On average, the cost of petrol in this country is some 20 per cent. above the cost of petrol in other countries. That is not a good thing when we are seeking export markets, because in the long run it makes competitive manufacturing more difficult. I am very distressed indeed that it has been found necessary to levy this increased duty. I think my own views on the matter are reasonably well known, and before the Chancellor finishes with this part of the Finance Bill I hope he will give us some assurance that this is not going to be an annual event. I feel that those of us who have spoken against this further increase have been fully justified in doing so, and, as I say, I should like to get something definite from the Chancellor regarding future policy in this particular field.
It is significant that the two speakers on the benches opposite have opposed this increase in the Petrol Duty, but at least they are being more consistent than their right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, and more honest. The hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris), said that the increase of the Petrol Duty had become a very easy means of raising revenue. He might have added that there is always the danger that once a tax becomes too easy to increase, it is never decreased.In moving this Amendment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), referred to the inconsistency of the Government in setting themselves up at the present time as protagonists in the cause for cheap fares and at the same time raising the Petrol Duty, because of its effect upon fares generally throughout the country. I believe that after Monday's debate on the question of fares, the travelling public, particularly in London, had a sense of anticlimax. They had seen the Prime Minister intervene in the question of fares and they had been given the impression that they were to be relieved of a considerable portion of the additional burden imposed upon them. But after the debate had taken place, it became quite clear that, not only was London not going to be relieved of more than a small fraction of the increased burden imposed upon it, but that in the long run fares in London would inevitably rise still further in view of the imposition of this additional fuel tax. What does the Government's intervention amount to as far as fares are concerned? Certain concessions are proposed regarding sub-standard fares in London which will result in a relief of only £500,000 per annum. That is what the Home Secretary stated and what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport confirmed in winding up the debate. This means that London is being extremely unfairly treated, especially in view of the fact that London will suffer most as the result of the increased Petrol Duty now being imposed. Under the scheme approved by the Transport Tribunal, £18,500,000 was to be taken in increased farces from the travelling public throughout the country. Of that £18,500,000, £13,500,000 was to be taken from London, and that extra burden is already being imposed on the travelling public in London. But in the rest of the country the increase, so far, has only amounted to £3 million. That increase was imposed on 1st January with the rise in the monthly returns. The travelling public outside London are now to be relieved of the balance of £2 million. London, therefore, is already bearing the largest portion of the increase in fares and is apparently going to suffer even more because of the very large amount of road transport used by the travelling public in the Metropolis. I consider, in view of the great increase in fares in London and in view of the additional burden which this tax will impose upon the travelling public in London, that this matter should be looked at again to see whether the relief proposed to be given in the rest of the country should not be applied in equal or even in greater measure to London. Although the Central Transport Committee has accepted the scheme proposed by the Transport Tribunal, I think that, in view of this increased tax, the matters which have been the subject of much protest in London, such as the abolition of the 4d., 7d. and 10d fares, should be reconsidered, and the imposition of the excessive increases limited to 42 per cent., as was to be the case in the rest of the country. It is a masterpiece of inconsistency on the part of the Government to pose as the champions of the travelling public, to intervene and give the impression that they are going to come to their relief, but to do it in very small measure and at the same time impose this duty. They can only be as ineffective as was King Canute's attempt to hold back the incoming tide. But whereas nobody could blame King Canute for failing to do so, the Government are actually encouraging the tide to come in. The position of the British Transport Commission is bound to worsen as a result of the imposition of these duties. It will not only deteriorate financially because of the greater charge that will be imposed through the increase in the duties on petrol and other fuel, but the Commission will also suffer through their passenger road services in the provinces, in Scotland and, of course, through London Transport. They will suffer, too, from the effect of these duties on the Road Haulage Executive, that is, on British Road Services. The British Road Haulage Executive will have an additional burden of £2,500,000 to meet as a result of increasing the duty by 7½d. a gallon. Last year, according to the Home Secretary on Monday, the Road Haulage Executive made an operating surplus of roughly £3 million. The imposition of these increased duties means that that operating surplus will be very largely eaten into. In other words, the British Transport Commission will lose £2,500,000 in revenue which they would otherwise have received from the Road Haulage Executive. Incidentally, the £3 million is not simply a contribution to central charges, as the Home Secretary suggested on Monday, implying thereby that the Road Haulage Executive was not operating at a profit last year but was only contributing its share to central charges. The £3 million which the Road Haulage Executive made last year was an operating profit and the central charge which the Executive has to meet is, in effect, a payment of dividend out of profit. The central charge results from compensation which had to be paid following the taking over of a large number of undertakings on very generous terms. The British Transport Commission will suffer materially from these increases in duties. If, at the same time as they lose revenue from their road haulage organisation, from London Transport and from the bus undertakings throughout the country in which they have an interest, the Government proceed with a policy of de-nationalising part of the British Transport Commission, then the burden which will be imposed on the transport user, whether he is a trader or shipper of goods or a member of the travelling public, will be one which will be extremely difficult to bear. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North, pointed out, the rise in the Petrol Duty last year brought that duty pretty well up to the limit. And the burden which the trader and the road user is being asked to carry today is one which is out of all proportion to the amount which is being spent on maintaining a safe system of roads throughout the country. It is estimated, for instance, that more than £220 million will be collected in duty on motor fuel at 2s. 6d. a gallon, plus a further £100 million a year in licence duties and Purchase Tax—a total of not less than £320 million from road users this year. As against that total revenue from taxation imposed on road users, only some £75 million are to be spent on the upkeep of the roads during the financial year. The Petrol Duty, if it is to be justified, would be justified if it were used for improving the road system of this country. The amount of money which is being spent on improving our roads is vastly inadequate compared to the danger which exists on those roads. If we were told that this increase was to be spent on improving the roads, one would be perhaps a little less emphatic in opposing it. The Government are behaving in a most inconsistent manner in imposing this duty. The travelling public will realise pretty soon that the pose of the Prime Minister, in particular, as one looking after their interests and intervening in this situation to bring relief to the travelling public of London was just a fraud and a deception. By the time that has come home to the people of London and the country and fares have gone up they will know how to judge the situation.
I feel a good deal of sympathy for what the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has just said about the disproportion between the money exacted from road users in the form of duty on petrol, licence duty and one thing and the other, and the actual amount spent on the roads. I have always thought there was a very strong case for a very substantial reduction, or redress of that position, and I hope that before long we shall achieve it, if possible in the reorganisation of transport that is likely to take place at an early date.Furthermore, I do not think anybody who takes an interest in road problems and the finances of the British Transport Commission can look upon the continual elevation of the Petrol Duty with any enthusiasm whatever. I support much of what has been said on this side of the Committee about hardship caused to industry generally and to the transport industry and to road users. There are many thousands, perhaps millions, of people who have recourse to private vehicles or road public service vehicles who will have to face in due time an increase in charges. But I thought the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), rather beat the pistol in saying that there had been actually an increase in transport charges as a result of the latest increase in the Petrol Duty. We have been threatened by the Public Vehicle Operators' Association and other bodies concerned that they are bound to put up their charges in time; but it cannot be said that so far any transport fares in the country have gone up as a result of what the present Government have done. 4.30 p.m. I plead with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in due time and season, when the financial position of the country has eased somewhat, he will make a substantial reduction in the Petrol Duty. The hon. Member for Enfield, East, talked about a limit having been reached last year. I do not know what he has in mind in his reference to a limit. Certainly petrol is still flowing into this country, and the revenue from it is still coming in. If he means that it is beginning to bear hardly on people in general, then I am with him, and I hope that there will be an early reduction. But this Committee is not a committee sitting on the transport industry this afternoon. We are a Committee on the Finance Bill, and we must have regard to fiscal and economic issues. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North, put up a very specious case, I thought. He ignored altogether the main design of my right hon. Friend's Budget; and he ignored altogether the grand design of operations intended to redress the overseas balance of trade and to bring some order into our international currency position. So far as the design of the Budget is concerned, my hon. Friends who have been able to congratulate the Chancellor on being able to give tax concessions in the Income Tax range this year might not have been able to do so if the over-all amount received in the Budget had been reduced by not having an increased Petrol Duty. The fact that we have this increased Petrol Duty means that my right hon. Friend has a certain amount more money which he can give in direct taxation reductions. But surely the main consideration is the overseas balance of trade position. We are faced with an immense and continuing dollar and gold deficit, and one of the taxes to which it is most convenient to have recourse in redressing that situation is the Petrol Duty. Formerly that was not so much the case. Up to last year, I think that only 12½ per cent. of the tax received from petrol could be classed as saving us gold and dollars: but, thanks to the inept foreign policy pursued by the Socialist Government last year, that dollar content has now gone up to something like 25 or 30 per cent. The fall of Abadan is the real reason why the people of this country have this year to put up with an increased tax on petrol; and let everybody who uses the roads, and everybody who is concerned in industry who uses oil and petrol, realise that the chief architect of this year's increased tax is none other than the right hon. Member for Lewisham. South (Mr. H. Morrison). If it had not been for his futile handling of events in Persia, we should not have had the increased tax this year.
I wish to take the Committee away from the crowded city streets and out into the green fields; in other words, I wish to support this Amendment on agricultural grounds. One of the main problems facing the agricultural industry today is in endeavouring to bring down costs. I know I shall be reminded, because of the interest I take in this matter, that one of the mounting costs in recent years has been that of wages, but I have yet to find an hon. Gentleman on either side of the Committee who would dispute that the men who work in the industry are entitled to good wages.The increased Petrol Duty is a cost which should never be passed on to the agricultural and horticultural industries. I am not asking the Chancellor to put more feathers in the bed. All I am asking him to do is to deal out a fair measure of justice to the agricultural industry. I know the Committee realises that petrol is used extensively by farmers and market gardeners in tractors and similar equipment. But apart from its use as tractor fuel, it serves for use in harvesting machinery and combines, as well as for stationary engines pumping water, generating electricity, operating milking and threshing machines, and in a variety of cultivators and other mobile and stationary equipment on smallholdings. There were some 53,000 farm tractors and 45,000 market garden tractors operating on petrol in 1950. I cannot say how many there are today, because I understand that the census is taken every few years, and the latest figures will not be available until July, but I suggest that there are many more tractors operating on our farms today than there were in 1950. It is estimated that in 1952 some 62 million gallons of motor spirit will be consumed by tractors and stationary engines used by agriculturists and horticulturists in purely land operations, and 7½d. a gallon thus means a yearly cost to the industry of £1,937,500. The additional tax of 7½d. per gallon brings the total tax on motor spirit to 2s. 6d. per gallon, and the total revenue derived from purely land work will amount to £7,750,000 in a full year. I make the point, which I think is a fair one, that the tax on petrol was designed originally to create a fund for the construction and maintenance of roads. It was never intended to apply to the consumption of petrol on non-road operations. This principle has already been conceded, whereby petrol consumed in fishing vessels does not attract the tax. By the imposition of this tax on petrol when used in land machines, the Government have created what I regard as a very wide discrepancy between petrol and other fuels used on the land. This discrepancy has resulted in the taxation of engineering, and the manufacturers of tractors and agricultural machines have been concentrating on the design of engines to run on tax free fuels, and the users of tractors have, by virtue of the tax lost, what they regard as the freedom of choice. The existence of a discrepancy between the two types of fuels was acknowledged by the then Chancellor in 1950, and I should like to call attention to something he said in imposing the 9d. tax in 1950:
"Certain agricultural operations are performed in some cases by vehicles or machines using fuel which is taxed and in other cases by vehicles or machines using an untaxed fuel. The additional duty now to be paid in respect of the former would involve a considerable extra cost to the farmer and an undue discrimination between the two types unless suitable measures were taken to offset the extra cost of running such vehicles or machines.
In taking that line the then Chancellor recognised the problem which would be created, and the rebate scheme to which I have referred operated, I think, for a year. In most progressive agricultural countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, the United States Of America, New Zealand, France and Ireland, petrol used for farm purposes is either exempt from duty altogether or given favourable tax treatment. I would not presume to speak for the National Farmers' Union, but I think that what I am saying today would have their sympathy and support. Many countries throughout the world are operating a petrol rebate scheme for the benefit of agriculturists and horticulturists. The scheme works in this way: the users of such fuel pay tax on the purchase price and then make application for a refund based on the amount consumed in non-road work.I propose, therefore, that an annual grant should be paid in respect of each such vehicle or machine based on a reasonable assumption as to the average amount of taxed fuel which each type consumes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 75–6.]
Is it not a fact that the increased cost of petrol for agricultural work has already been taken into account in the prices fixed under the recent Price Review?
I am addressing my remarks through you, Wing Commander Hulbert, to the Chancellor.
Surely the hon. Member can answer that question.
I shall be able to listen to what the Chancellor has to say when he gets up to speak. When the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is Chancellor of the Exchequer I will listen to him.I was talking about this rebate scheme and explaining that the users of this fuel pay the tax at the purchase price and then make application for a refund based upon the amount consumed in non-road work. The schemes in operation have apparently been so designed as to prevent abuse by the use of tax-free fuel in road vehicles. There is no doubt that similar schemes could be operated here. I hope that the Amendment which has been proposed so far as the use of petrol in farm machinery is concerned can be accepted. The Chancellor realises very well—as I do, living in an agricultural area—that we have to produce a lot more food. I think it can best be done by efficient methods. The increased petrol tax on farm machinery is a tax on farming efficiency, and we shall operate that tax at our peril. We cannot afford to run the risk and I hope, therefore, that the Committee will indicate their endorse-men of my view by voting for the Amendment.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are entitled to criticise and express their disapproval of the way in which we seek to raise increased revenue; but I think it would be very gracious if they prefaced their criticisms and observations by some admission that they—or, at any rate, the late Government, which they supported—are at least in part responsible for the circumstances which oblige us to raise additional revenue.The need for raising such revenue arises not merely from higher prices; not merely from the fact of increased social benefits, pensions and family allowances, but also from the mistakes and blunders of the late Government which resulted either in a direct loss to the revenue or in a weakening of our sources of revenue. My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has just referred to the loss of Abadan and the effect that had on our balance of payments position, thus obliging my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to draw his Budget as he did. Turning for a moment to the more purely revenue aspect of the situation, I see from the returns that the increase in revenue which the Chancellor hopes to get from the petrol tax is about £65 million. It is a very large sum, but it is not so much larger than the loss in revenue to the Exchequer arising from the loss of the refinery at Abadan. It must be remembered that the Exchequer used to draw the tax on the profits of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the dividend accruing to them in shares in the company which they owned and also the Admiralty contract for petrol. It was a sum which was not very inferior to the sum it is hoped to raise by this tax. 4.45 p.m I am not suggesting for a moment that the fact that one happens to lose money by losing a petrol asset in any way causes one to put a tax on petrol where it is distributed to commercial vehicles. There is no direct connection of that kind. Nevertheless, the fact that a loss of revenue arising out of the loss of a petrol asset should lead to an increase in taxation upon petrol may help to remind us and the public that weak and vacillating foreign policies inevitably lead to heavier burdens upon the masses of the people.
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to Abadan, I should like to ask him if he is aware that the oil—temporarily, we hope—lost from Abadan is now being replaced to a considerable extent by oil from other sources in the Middle East and that the dollar content of our imports is now going down? Will he also tell us, as he never has done, whether the Conservative Party would, in the last resort, have used force to maintain our position at Abadan?