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Commons Chamber

Volume 523: debated on Monday 1 February 1954

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House Of Commons

Monday, 1st February, 1954

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Ministry Of Food

Tinned Salmon (Distribution)


asked the Minister of Food, as tinned salmon has been scarce for a considerable period, when the next distribution is likely to take place.

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman make sure that on this occasion less goes to catering establishments and more to housewives?

:The hon. Member can rest assured that it will be fairly distributed.

:Can my right hon. and gallant Friend estimate how much is to be imported from British Columbia during the current year?

:Of the allocation which I have just announced, I should think that 72 per cent. will be Canadian.

Flour (Improvers)


asked the Minister of Food if a suitable substitute has yet been found for agene in flour for human or animal consumption.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) on 25th January.

:Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say when a decision on this long awaited matter is likely to be made?

:We shall come to a decision as soon as possible. I am sure the hon. Member appreciates that some very complicated and important questions have to be dealt with in this matter, which is why it is taking a long time. Experiments are involved, the results of which have to be watched with great care. I can assure the hon. Member that we are doing everything we can to expedite the matter.

Meat Ration (Value)


asked the Minister of Food the value of the present meat ration in terms of 1948 prices.

:In view of the figure which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given, and the likelihood of another increase in the not too distant future, is not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a little concerned about this matter, in view of the undertakings about reducing the cost of living?

I have been rather kind to the hon. Gentleman, because in 1948, which he chose, the meat ration varied between 1s. and 6d. I would also point out—and I am sure that he can confirm this figure through the wholesale societies—that 10 lb. more meat was consumed per person in 1953 than in the year referred to.

Food Prices


asked the Minister of Food if he is now able to give an estimate of the amount by which the price of rationed foods will rise when these are derationed and decontrolled later in the year.

I cannot add to the reply which I gave the hon. Member on 9th November last.

:That was no reply at all, neither is that which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has just given. Are we to understand that the Minister has no idea just how high these prices will rise? Are we to take it that old age pensioners and those with low incomes are to be deprived of their rations when prices rise astronomically, as has been prophesied? May I have an answer?


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, compared with November, 1951, in November, 1953, the price of bacon was up 1s. 1½d. per lb., bread up 3d. on a 3½-lb. loaf, meat up 4d. per lb., milk up 2d. a quart, butter up 10d. per lb., cheese 1s., margarine and cooking fat, 4d. per lb., and, since November, 1953, tea has risen in price, coffee has risen by 1s. 10d. per lb. and sugar by 2½d. per lb.; and whether he will reintroduce price control and take such further action which will ensure the restoration of these food prices to their November, 1951, level.

As I said in the House on 9th November last, Her Majesty's Government believe that decontrol will enable efficient private trading and effective competition to serve the best interests of all consumers in respect of quantity, quality and price. I would draw the attention of the hon. Member to the stability of the Food Section of the Retail Price Index during the past year as compared with the year 1951.

:Is the Minister aware that the prices of basic foodstuffs are continually rising and that the index to which he refers takes account of items which are bought only very occasionally? If these prices have risen by these amounts, are we to take it that when the remaining commodities are derationed they will rise in price by the same amount?

As I must repeat, there is only one possible method of judging food prices, and that is the index. I notice that the hon. Member does not disregard the index because he has a Question down to the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, No. 47, in which he accepts the cost-of-living index. The only figures we can possibly give are those from the Food Section of the cost-of-living index, which is common both to the previous Administration and to this Administration. The fact is that it has remained steady for the whole of this year and has dropped four points since last June.

:Is it not a fact that in the case of bacon and cheese, 10d. of this rise should have been imposed before the General Election but that hon. Members opposite did not put it on because of the Election?

:As my hon. and gallant Friend has said, there should have been an increase of 10d. on cheese and 10d. on bacon, but it was not convenient at the time to impose it.

:In addition to looking at the Retail Price Index, has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman ever looked at a grocery order book of a housewife in order to check up the price increases which have taken place?

:It is very simple, as more than one hon. Member has discovered, to select any item which has increased in price. For instance, cheese is such an item. But when we are considering the cost of living, proper weight is given in the index to necessary foods. This system was devised by hon. Members opposite. All we have done is to adopt what I assume they found to be a good thing. The figures which I am giving to the House, and which I will continue to give, are on a comparable basis; and, on a comparable basis, they have remained steady this year and they have dropped four points since last June.

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that exaggeration of the cost of living is now practically the only thing left in the Labour Party's armoury?

:Would the right hon. and gallant Gentieman say specifically, yes or no, whether the price increases set out one by one in the Question are correctly or incorrectly set out?

:I have not worked through them all, although I am prepared to accept them, but it has nothing whatever to do with what I am saying. I assume that hon. Members opposite took some interest in the lower paid working-class when they were in office, and I assume, therefore, that they would not have introduced an index which did not fairly reflect the cost of living. Having done so then, they cannot now complain because I follow the same practice.


asked the Minister of Food if he can give an estimate of the probable increase or decrease in the price of basic foodstuffs during the next 3, 6 and 12 months, respectively; and to what extent his anticipation a year ago of the then prospective price of basic foodstuffs has been fulfilled.

I am not prepared to speculate on future price movements, but I have no reason to think that they will all be in one direction.

As regards the second part of the Question I do not know to what anticipation of mine the hon. Member refers, but the Food section of the Retail Price Index rose by only a fraction of one point during 1953, which reflects a very satisfactory degree of price stability as compared with any period since the end of the war.

:While that may be so, are we to take it that the Minister has in his Department no estimates of possible fluctuations in prices in forthcoming months? Do I understand that a year ago there were no such assumptions as to the future?

:We have to be careful about these assumptions, because I remember assumptions from hon. Members opposite about a 10d. egg which have hardly been sustained.

:That has nothing to do with my question. I asked whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has any information such as that which I sought. Will he be kind enough to answer the Question?

I have answered the Question. I am not prepared to speculate on future price movements because so much depends on the cost of raw materials—on whether the price of raw materials goes up or down. Some prices may go up, other prices may come down, which is what has happened in the last year.

Strawberries (Vitamins)


asked the Minister of Food how much vitamin C is present in fresh strawberries; and how muchis left in strawberry jam of the full fruit standard after the pulp has been impregnated with sulphur dioxide and stored until the mash is boiled to remove brown discolouration.

:The average vitamin C content of fresh strawberries is 256 milligrams per lb. That of mashed, sulphited, stored pulp depends largely on factors other than the addition of sulphur dioxide, which helps to preserve vitamin C. The vitamin C content of jam made from such pulp cannot, therefore, be stated precisely.

:The Minister is not being fair to the House in that answer. He has not taken into account the prolonged boiling to which the mash has to be subjected in order to get rid of the sulphur discolouration. Cannot he show in what way this pulp deteriorates in vitamin C? When shall we get back to pre-war practice and forbid this preservative altogether?

:The hon. Member has me on very weak ground in this matter, which is a very technical one, but I understand that sulphur dioxide helps to preserve vitamin C, and that all cooking processes result in a loss of from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. of vitamin C.

In view of that reply, in which the Minister stated that from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. of vitamin C disappears in boiling, will he not put a stop to this fraud on the public?

I do not think that jam is a very good source of vitamin C. The best source is the fresh fruit which is available.

Bread Making (Fats)


asked the Minister of Food if he will give an estimate of the saving of natural fat which is no longer used in bread making as a result of the modern use of chemical fat savers; and which are the principal chemicals used for this purpose.

The principal substance of this kind used by bakers is glycerinated fat. I regret that I cannot estimate the resultant saving in natural fat.

:Could not the Minister help us by making a guess at it? Is he not aware that in America, some years ago, the figure reached approximately 115 million lb.? Taking account of the difference in population, would it not be reasonable to say that our figure would be about one-third of that amount?

I should not care to state a figure without notice. It is, of course, in periods of shortages that these kinds of substitutes are encouraged. As we are, I hope, practically approaching the time when we shall have no more shortage of fat, it will be all right.



asked the Minister of Food whether he will institute an inquiry into the operation of the system of the payment of cash allowances to egg packing stations.

I do not want to be unduly critical of the Minister's failure, but ought he not to explain to his own back benchers how he has abolished food subsidy on eggs by doubling it? He ought to explain how the cash payment to the wholesalers, which was 3s. in September, became 13s. in December. He ought to explain how this cash allowance is still being paid when the profit margins of the wholesalers are bigger than they have ever been before.

:The hon. Gentleman, as usual, is slightly exaggerating the case. The costs to the packing stations of collection and delivery and the like come to ⅛d., and the wholesalers' margin is just under ¼d.

:Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered what the grocers have had to say about how the wholesalers' margins have increased, and how they get the cash allowance, while the grocers' margins have been squeezed?


asked the Minister of Food if he has considered details, which have been sent to him, about the retailing of eggs; and when he will take off all restrictions.

Yes, Sir, and no doubt my hon. Friend has now received the letter which I have sent him. Current regulations affecting the retailing of eggs are among the matters now under discussion between the Government and the National Farmers' Unions. I cannot anticipate the form of the permanent arrangements for the marketing of eggs which will emerge from these discussions.

:How much longer will my right hon. and gallant Friend continue to try to do the impossible by trying to overcome the law of supply and demand?


asked the Minister of Food the number of eggs imported in long hundreds, during the last six months of 1952 and 1953; how many were Empire produced: and how many foreign.

:The total numbers of eggs imported during the last six months of 1952 and 1953 were 5,842,700 and 6,708,300 long hundreds respectively. Of these 2,099,300 and 2,078,700 long hundreds, respectively, were Commonwealth produced and 3,743,400 and 4,629,600 long hundreds were foreign.

Have all the eggs which we have been importing been sold, or has the Department some in reserve?

:Would the Minister explain this for our guidance? We are familiar with the Old Hundredth, but what are "long hundreds"?


asked the Minister of Food if he will give an estimate of how many million dozen shell eggs were produced in the United Kingdom in the months of October, November and December, 1953; and the proportion which went through the licensed packing stations each month.

:Through packing stations in this period 93·6 million dozen eggs were sold. But I regret information is not available as to home-produced eggs disposed of otherwise.


asked the Minister of Food what the guaranteed price for eggs cost his Department during each month, October, November and December, 1953.

Approximately £0·8 million in October, £0·6 million in November, and £2·5 million in December, 1953.

:In view of the likelihood of an increasing proportion going to the packing stations this year, would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman use his influence with the Ministry of Agriculture to see that the guaranteed price is progressively lowered?

:The prices are decided at reviews which are held annually, and all these things are taken into consideration. The next review is to take place very shortly.

Grain Sales (Trading Deficit)


asked the Minister of Food the trading deficit to the latest available date on the sale of grain by his Department during the financial year 1953–54.

Up to 31st December, 1953, the trading deficit is estimated at £8·1 million.

:Does the Minister realise that his losses on grains are making chicken feed of the expenditure on groundnuts?



asked the Minister of Food if he will publish the Interim. Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Slaughtering.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) and to him on Friday, 29th January, 1954.

:What consultations have there been between my right hon. and gallant Friend and the local authorities? Can he give an assurance that he will, give the maximum assistance to the local authorities in the discharge of what is a very heavy burden of responsibility?


asked the Minister of Food how many slaughterhouses will be required when meat is derationed later this year; and what arrangements are being made to ensure that adequate facilities will then be available.

:It is not possible, to make a firm estimate. It will be for local authorities and other interests concerned to survey the position in their own areas in the light of the recently published Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Slaughterhouses. I hope shortly to meet representatives of the authorities and other interests.

:While appreciating the complexity of this problem, may I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend whether he is reasonably confident that adequate premises will be available when the day comes for the derationing of meat, because this is a vital matter?

:That was the purpose of getting the interim Report that we might be assured that we should have sufficient accommodation.

:Will my right hon. and gallant Friend give as much latitude as possible to the local authorities in making these arrangements, and not keep too much responsibility in his Department?

:This is largely, if not entirely, a responsibility of the local authorities.

Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered the chaos that will arise when the derationing of meat comes about, so far as the slaughterhouses are concerned? What will be the position of the large centres? Are they to supply the surrounding towns, or are they to have their own slaughterhouses? Will the big wholesale butchers start again, having regard to the fact that this work is being done by contract?

:There are two problems here. The long-term problem is that of moderate concentration, and that has been accepted by both sides of the House. The short-term problem is that of getting sufficient slaughterhouses so that when decontrol of meat takes place this year adequate space will be available.

Family Diets


asked the Minister of Food what action he proposes to take, following the findings of the recent national food survey that the diet of families where there are four or more children has fallen below the national average, to ensure that such families are adequately fed.

:As young children have smaller needs than adults for certain foods, the consumption of households with four or more children naturally tends to fall below the national average. The figures to which the hon. Member refers relate to 1951. I am watching the position with care.

Has there not recently been an investigation by the British Medical Association into this matter? Is not the Minister aware that because of the rising prices of foods a number of people are falling below—[Hon. Members: "No."] Yes, the prices of necessary foods have risen. Is the Minister aware that, in consequence, some families are living below what is considered to be the requisite nutritional standard?

:I am watching this position very carefully. It is not a matter that can be treated otherwise than seriously. In view of what he said about the rising prices, and as his Question refers to 1951, I would remind the hon. Member that that was a time when his right hon. Friends were in complete charge of the situation.

Would not the Minister agree that the consumption of milk has fallen during the last two years? As the amount of milk a family consumes increases proportionately with the number of children, what does he propose to do about it?

:The welfare scheme is not affected in any way. The drop in the consumption of milk is far too small to have any serious effects.

Coffee Prices


asked the Minister of Food whether he will reimpose controls on the retail price of coffee.

Why not? Comparing the highest price of coffee now with the highest price before controls were removed, does not the Minister think that something could be done to allow people to purchase their commodities at reasonable prices?

The hon. Gentleman must not lose his sense of proportion in this matter. The amount of coffee drunk in this country is 1lb. per head of the population per annum. It may be that the consumption of coffee has fallen because of the decontrol of tea. Whether we had control or not the price would have had to go up, because the price of coffee in Brazil, for instance, rose between 1952 and 1954 by over £6 10s. cwt. Whether hon. Members like it or not, they must realise that if people want this commodity they have to pay the price for it.



asked the Minister of Food the minimum and maximum prices of margarine when this is taken off the ration book.

:On the removal of price control and the reintroduction of brands, margarine will be sold competitively at prices varying according to type and quality and the movement of world prices for oils and oilseeds.

:Cannot the right hon. and gallant Gentleman indicate the minimum or the maximum, or does he not intend to impose a maximum?

There will be no minimum and there will be no maximum when decontrol takes place, which, if I may say so, is a very good thing. There will be a margarine available at about the present price and of the present quality.


asked the Minister of Food what are the main oils used in the manufacture of margarine; their respective food values; to what extent vitamins are added in the course of manufacture; and if he will publish the respective nutritional merits of 1 lb. of standard margarine and butter, respectively.

:As the reply is necessarily rather technical and contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate the information in the Official Report.

:Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say what is likely to be the standard form of margarine available? Would he consider placing on the labels of these margarines some indication of their nutritional value, so that people may know exactly what they are buying?

:It is generally accepted that the fat and energy content of butter and margarine are about the same. After derationing, better quality margarine will be available and there will also be a margarine exactly the same as that used today, which is called the standard margarine. I have not considered the question of putting anything on the labels, but I will look into that matter.

:Are we to assume from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's answer that he intends margarine for the less well-to-do and butter for the more well-to-do, if the food values are the same?

Following is the information:

The main oils used in the manufacture of margarine are coconut, palm kernel, palm and groundnut oils, which are of similar food value. Margarine sold for domestic purposes contains 450–550 internationalunits of vitamin A, and 90 international units of vitamin D per ounce. Vitamins are not added to margarine used for manufacture.

The fat content and energy value of butter and margarine are almost the same. The vitamin content of butter varies with place of origin and season of production. An average vitamin A value is 14,000 international units per lb. compared with 8,000 in special margarine, and an average vitamin D value is 270 international units per lb. compared with 1,440 in special margarine.



asked the Minister of Food if he will give an assurance that the supplies of butter will be adequate to meet the demand when derationed; and if he can state the price.

On present forecasts increased supplies of butter will be available this year, but butter cannot be considered in isolation. The total supply of fats will, I am satisfied, be ample when rationing ends.

> As regards the last part of the Question, like my predecessors, I cannot forecast price changes.

:Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that I am not asking about the overall quantity of fats? I am asking about butter. Is it that he neither knows nor cares?


:Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman realise how grossly unfair he is in taking off this subsidy, because in December last, at the old price, 1½ million rations were not taken up? Under the Labour Government we reached a ration of 5 oz., which has never been reached under this Government. Is it not clear that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is decontrolling at the expense of the housewife who will not be able to afford butter?

:That is not in accordance with the facts for, as the hon. Member knows as well as I do, among old-age pensioners, of whom hon. Members opposite talk a great deal, the whole of the butter ration is taken up.

:Does my right hon. and gallant Friend appreciate, as I am sure he does, that it takes 3½ gallons of milk to make 1 lb. of butter and that milk is more than 3s. a gallon?

In view of what his right hon. Friend has just said, will the Minister reconsider his decision and retain the subsidy?

:Even with the subsidy off there are very few countries where butter will be as cheap as it is in this country. The hon. Member always chooses figures which suit his case, but even without the subsidy butter will be very much cheaper here than in most other countries.

:May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? How can the Table accept so many Questions which suggest that the cost of living has gone up and, at the same time, accept Question No. 47, which suggests that the cost of living has gone down? In one case this has been done by the same hon. Member.

:Before you reply, Mr. Speaker, may I say it is because I am aware that prices have not gone down in the Kitchen Committee's Department and that they do not accept the figures in the way I do, that I put that Question down; and knowing that we must take the official figures, whether we believe in them or not, I had to put the official figures in the Question.

Departmental Officials


asked the Minister of Food the number of personnel under his jurisdiction on 31st December, 1951, and 1952, and at the latest available date, respectively.

The number was 17,254 on 1st January, 1954, as compared with 22,771 on 31st December, 1952, and 26,232 on 31st December, 1951.

:Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that I am glad to hear that the number of people who are producing nothing is being reduced, so that they can be returned to productive employment?

Fish Prices


asked the Minister of Food, in view of the high price of fish now prevailing, what action he proposes to take to prevent the incidence of scarcity through bad fishing conditions being aggravated by monopoly; and, in view of the fact that the price of cod is higher this year as compared with similar seasonal conditions prevailing last year, if he will reimpose control.

The recent scarcity and high price of fish are due to bad weather conditions on the fishing grounds.

The answer to the second part of the Question is "No, Sir."

:Am I to take it that the Minister attributes the increase in the price of fish entirely to bad weather conditions? Is it not also true that one of the factors operating here is the monopolistic power of certain traders?

:There is no such question in the month of January. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the reason for the high price of fish today is the adverse weather which is always experienced in this country during particular months, and that January was one of the worst months we have had. There were 145 gale warnings during January compared with 91 in January last year. I do not think that anyone who knows the North Sea at this time of the year will think that the fishermen are being overpaid.

Does not my right hon. and gallant Friend agree that it is evident from all these Questions on food prices that there are by-elections pending?

:If it is any help in the next by-election, I am glad to say that prices this morning have dropped compared with last week, in respect of cod, from 10s. to 12s. 10d. to 6s. 6d. to 8s. 6d.; and haddock from 11s. to 16s. 4d. to 6s. to 11s. 3d. There is a drop; and there is no doubt that the high prices were due practically entirely to the bad weather in the last few weeks.

Ministry Of Supply

Ordnance Factory Inspection (Inquiry Report)


asked the Minister of Supply whether he has yet received the report of the committee appointed by himself and the First Lord of the Admiralty to inquire into the duplication of inspection in Royal ordnance factories.

:Can the Minister say whether the committee has accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee on Estimates to abolish the duplication of inspections in Royal ordnance factories?

:The committee made a number of detailed recommendations designed to secure economy in the inspection staff, and, with very minor exceptions, these recommendations have been adopted. Its report does not reveal any actual duplication: that is to say, two people doing the same work in the same factory: but it shows that economies are possible, and account is being taken of the recommendations.

I do not think that this is the kind of report that should be published, although there is nothing very secret about it. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in this matter, and if he would like me to send him a summary of the action taken. I will gladly do so.

In view of the importance of the inspection of explosives for the Navy, will my right hon. Friend publish the report or make it available for those of us who take an interest in this matter?

Aircraft Industry (Machine Tools)


asked the Minister of Supply what steps he is taking to ensure the provision of large forging presses and the development of suitable machine tools for the aircraft industry.

The Ministry of Supply is constantly in touch with the aircraft constructors with regard to new production methods and the development of new plant. In view of the very high cost of these large forging presses, the possibility of Government assistance is being considered.

Has the Minister seen the report of the conference on aircraft production organised by the Institute of Production Engineers, at Southampton, and the remarks of Mr. Woodley, of Vickers Armstrong, about the inadequacy of the present arrangements for the development of machine tools for the aircraft industry? If so, will he consider using some of the vacant space at Woolwich Arsenal for their development instead of placing contracts with private industry?

I think that the last part of that question goes a little wide of the original Question. In general, I am well aware of the importance of these larger plants for production, but, on the other hand, we must bear in mind these heavy forging presses and ancilliary equipment cost about £10 million. We have also to consider other methods of achieving the same results; if we do not we are liable to get our fingers burned quite badly.

:Is the Minister not aware that practically the whole of the research and development by the aircraft industry is carried out on Government account? Is it not hard that the Government should also have to subsidise research and development for the manufacture of the machine tools which are to produce the aircraft?

Steel Plate (Production)


asked the Minister of Supply whether he is satisfied that existing capacity for the production of steel plate is adequate for the country's needs.

:Plate production in the United Kingdom increased by over 200,000 tons in 1953 and I expect some further increase this year. In the course of its study of the industry's development plans the Iron and Steel Board is considering what expansion of steel plate-making capacity is necessary to meet foreseeable demands.

Is it not a fact that in a situation in which we are still dependent on imports for some part of our supply of steel plates, the industry is showing reluctance to lay down another plate mill? Is this the way in which to make our balance of payments position more secure?

:You cannot erect this heavy steel plate plant overnight, as the hon. Member knows. There are a number of projects going forward which will take time to mature. With regard to being dependent on imports, he is probably aware that at the present time we are exporting more steel plates than we are importing.

:Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are now importing, at considerable expense, particular types of steel plate, particularly boiler plate? Is it not time that we found some way of expanding the production capacity of the firms concerned?

:If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer I gave, he would have heard that it was expanded last year. It is to expand further this year and the Iron and Steel Board is considering what further expansion is necessary. Meanwhile, I welcome the imports because they help to bridge the gap.

280 Rifle (Development Expenditure)


asked the Minister of Supply what expenditure has been incurred in the production and testing of the ·280 rifle.

:I regret that figures are not available. The ·280 rifle was developed, produced and tested at several establishments, together with various other weapon projects. It would be difficult to assess what proportion of the expenditure of these establishments was incurred in connection with this particular weapon. Nor would it be practicable to separate the cost of work on the ·280 rifle from the work on the later ·300 type.

Is it not a shocking thing that we are spending a great deal of time and money on producing the best rifle in the world only for it to be thrown overboard because of the Prime Minister's desire to have a rifle with a butt?

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to anticipate the debate which is about to take place. Whatever money may have been spent on development of the British version, there would, of course, be no economy in adopting it since the Belgian company does not intend to charge us any Royalty for the manufacturing rights of their rifle.

Belgian Fn Rifle


asked the Minister of Supply when it is proposed to produce the Belgian F.N. rifle in this country; and what orders have been placed for its purchase from Belgian sources.

It is still too early to give a precise answer to the first half of the hon. Member's Question. With regard to the second half, apart from a few samples, no orders have as yet been placed.

British Aero-Engines (United States Manufacture)


asked the Minister of Supply which types of British aeroplane engines are now being manufactured, under licence, in the United States of America; when the respective agreements were signed; and how many of each type of engine have so far been produced.

:Versions of the Tay and Sapphire aero-engines are now being manufactured under licence in the United States of America. The manufacturing licences were granted in 1947 and 1950, respectively. I cannot, of course, disclose production figures for American military engines.

:In view of the extraordinary effort and the huge sums of public money which went into the development of these engines, the details of which have been made known to our American competitors,is the right hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that these arrangements are working to the advantage of this country?

:The decisions on these two engines were made under the previous Government.

:Are the United States manufacturers of these engines charged a royalty in respect of licences?

I was not trying to lay blame on one Government or another. I asked a simple question, which is in the public interest, whether the right hon. Gentleman is quite satisfied that these arrangements are working out to the best advantage of this country?

I am quite sure that they are. There is a great deal of interchange of information and of development knowledge as between the Armed Forces of the United States and of the United Kingdom, and I am quite sure that it is to the mutual advantage of both countries that these arrangements should continue.

Aero-Engines (Research And Development Expenditure)


asked the Minister of Supply the total amount of money spent by his Department, since the war to the last convenient date, on research and development of aero-engines; and to what extent this money has been recovered by repayments after sales by manufacturers.

Almost all our expenditure on aero-engine development has been primarily for military purposes. Information cannot, therefore, be published. Until 1950, the amounts recovered from manufacturers in respect of the sales of engines were not kept separately. These repayments are at present running at the rate of about £1 million a year.

:Has the Minister seen the statement by the chairman of the biggest group of aircraft manufacturers, that we are not spending sufficient on research and development and that the Minister's Department is now actuated by timidity and complacency? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept these criticisms?

No, Sir. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the full answer which I gave on this subject last Monday to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy.

:Would the Minister agree that the amount of public money which has been spent up to now has been very large indeed? Does he think that a return of £1 million a year is fair?

:The right hon. Gentleman evidently does not know what it is all about. I explained that this expenditure is almost entirely on military types. The return that we get is in the form of military aircraft for our Forces. It is purely a by-product ifwe get anything in the way of repayments in respect of engines developed for military purposes which are subsequently used for civil purposes and then sold abroad.

Piloted Supersonic Flight (Research)


asked the Minister of Supply what research is now being carried out, or is contemplated, in piloted super sonic flight.

A considerable programme of research into the problems of piloted supersonic flight is being undertaken and a number of different types of supersonic Service aircraft are in course of development. I am not, of course, free to give details.

Will the Minister make it clear: are we now engaged in research on piloted supersonic aircraft?

Pensions And National Insurance

Assistance Board Beneficiaries


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance the total number of persons receiving payments from the National Assistance Board on 31st December, 1953; and the number of old age pensioners and other recipients of National Insurance benefits included in this total.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance
(Mr. R. H. Turton)

:At 15th December, 1953, regular weekly grants of National Assistance were being paid to 1,761,149 persons, of whom 1,227,063 had retirement pensions or other National Insurance benefits. Some of the grants covered the needs of a household containing more than one recipient of a pension or benefit.

:Is the Minister aware that those figures show an alarming increase over the figures at the end of the previous year? Will he not now consider raising the old age pension payments to take out of National Assistance large numbers of old people who ought not to be required to apply for it for extra relief?

If he examines the figures for this year and previous years, the hon. Member will note that there has been a continuous increase since 1948. The increase in the total number this year is less than the increase in preceding years.

:Is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that as these increases go on accumulating it becomes all the more serious? As more than a quarter of the old people are now dependent upon National Assistance, will the Minister not do something about it?

:One of the reasons for the increase is that the National Assistance scales today are, rightly, at a more generous level than ever before. Another factor is that many of the older people exhausted their savings during the period of inflation from 1947 to 1951.

:Is the Minister aware that of the number of retirement pensioners receiving an allowance from the Assistance Board quite a large number also receive an increment in pension under the National Insurance Act, which is taken into account in assessing the allowance from the Board and defeats the purpose of the increment? Will the hon. Gentleman consider disregarding this amount of increment and thus safeguard the purpose of the increment?

In view of the nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Limbless Ex-Service Men (Increasing Disablement)


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what progress is being made by the investigations into the problem of increasing disablement suffered by limbless ex-Service men as they get older; and if he will make a statement.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance
(Brigadier J. G. Smyth)

The vast majority of the medical examinations requested by the Rock Carling Committee have been concluded and it is hoped to clear the small remainder in the next fortnight or so.

The clinical findings relating to over 5,000 concluded cases are now being collated and the results will be sent to the Committee for consideration as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend would prefer not to prophesy when the investigations, which are of international importance, will be completed. When the final report of the Committee is available, he proposes to study it in consultation with his principal medical advisers and subsequently with his Central Advisory Committee.

With regard to the problem of the ageing pensioner, my right hon. Friend proposes to await the final report of the Committee before reaching a conclusion.

:Is the Minister aware that the disadvantages of the loss of a limb become progressively very much greater as the years go by, and that there will be widespread support for any exceptional treatment which is accorded to these men who have suffered so much in the common cause?

:On existing information, my right hon. Friend has no reason for discriminating between the ageing war amputee and any other type of ageing pensioner. I suggest, however, that we should await the Committee's report.

Personal Case


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance why, in view of the independent and responsible medical opinion submitted to him in support of the application by Mr. Aaron Barnes, of Blackburn, for an increased war pension in respect of the amputation of his second leg, he has failed to give this applicant the benefit of the reasonable doubt which exists in his case.

The consensus of expert medical opinion leaves no room for reasonable doubt that the amputation of Mr. Barnes' right leg in 1953 was not connected with the loss of the left leg in 1917. I have fully explained the position to the hon. Member, both orally and in writing, and, much as I sympathise with Mr. Barnes, I regret that his pension cannot be increased.

:Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that this consensus of medical opinion which he has quoted does not include that of an independent specialist of high repute, whose report I have sent him and who expresses the view that the degeneration of Mr. Barnes' right leg might have been associated with the fact that his left leg was amputated as a result of the First World War? Is it not intolerable that an ex-Service man minus both legs should now be getting only a 60 per cent pension?

:As the hon. Lady knows, I have gone into this case very carefully indeed. I have read the reports of the two medical men whose opinions she sent me, and they are very indefinite; they just indicate that it is worth making a claim.

During the last seven years, we have heard of only two cases in which it was claimed that arterio-sclerosis arose in a sound limb as a result of wearing an artificial limb. One of these cases, exactly similar to that of Mr. Barnes, was referred to two independent medical experts, both of whom confirmed the wealth of medical opinion which we have in the Ministry of these cases, to the effect that the wearing of an artificial limb would not cause, aggravate or precipitate the onset of arterio-sclerosis in the sound limb, that the incidence of arterio-sclerosis is certainly no greater among amputees than among civilians who have no wounds at all, and that the average age for the appearance of this disability is 50, whereas Mr. Barnes is 61. I am giving the hon. Lady this reply rather fully, because it is of the greatest interest and concern to amputees all over the country.

:Does not the length of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's reply reveal the guilt that is on his conscience? Is it not a fact that as long as there is any reputable independent medical opinion prepared to say that there is reasonable doubt in a pensioner's case, under the terms of the Royal Warrant the applicant ought to be given the benefit?

:These cases are always distressing, but in this particular case we have a great consensus of medical opinion at all our limb fitting ceintres and at Roehampton Hospital. I have checked the consensus of opinion with the opinion of our doctors in the Ministry. Mr. Barnes is getting £4 17s. a week from the Ministry, and we will help him in any way we possibly can.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise this matter later.


Offices, Fife (Closing)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many of his Department's local offices in Fife he proposes to close; the estimated annual saving expected from such closures; what protests he has received about this action; and the nature of the reply sent to those protesting.

Twenty, with a saving of £2,150 a year. So far, five local authorities have objected and my officers are in discussion with them.

:Can the Minister say whether the local authorities or the trade unions were consulted before this policy was decided on? Can he further say how far the policy indicates the ending of the present system of fuel allocation; and thirdly, is he satisfied that the economies resulting from this policy are sufficient to offset the hardship which will be caused to old age pensioners and lower income group people, who will now have to have further recourse to the National Assistance Board for travelling expenses?

It is most important that we should make every effort to achieve economy in these rationing schemes when they persist, but it is not our intention to cause hardship. That is the reason why discussions with local authorities are now proceeding, and I hope that we shall be able to get an agreed solution in this part of the country, as in so many others.

:Would the Minister answer the first part of my supplementary question? Were the trade unions and local authorities consulted before action was taken?

:No, it is the responsibility of the Government to form a policy for the making of economies, but in the course of carrying out this policy we are consulting the local authorities concerned.

Registrations, County Durham


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the number of registrations for domestic coal with the National Coal Board and private factors, respectively, for the County of Durham.

Coal Board (Registrations)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power to state, for each National Coal Board division and for Great Britain as a whole the extent to which the board is the distributing agency for retail of domestic coal supplies; the extent to which this coal distribution by the board has increased since the passing of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946; and how far it is his policy to encourage the board to acquire privately-owned domestic coal selling agencies.

This is primarily a matter for the National Coal Board under its powers accorded in the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act and over Great Britain as a whole, the National Coal Board's share of the domestic coal trade has increased during the last seven years by about one-tenth of 1 per cent.: it now stands at 2·9 per cent.

With permission, I will circulate the figures for particular divisions in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is the Coal Board's retail distribution more economic than the privately-owned system of distribution? What difficulty prevents the taking over of this part of the distribution system?

I think that the efficiency of the various retail distribution systems will best be judged by the public themselves when, as we hope, price control and restrictions are soon done away with.

:Can the Minister say what is his answer to the last part of the Question?

Following are the figures:

National Coal Board DivisionVesting Date (1st January, 1947)31st October, 1953
Northern (N. & C.)73,59641,190
North Eastern34,15232,745
North western159,536208,583
East Midlands23,85029,460
West Midlands48,90169,852
South Western47,67342,187
South Eastern603424
Total Registrations with National Coal Board412,804482,219
Total Registrations Great Britain14,904,55416,624,231

Percentage: National Coal Board


Former Mineowners (Compensation)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what amount of the £203,773,258 compensation paid since 1947 to the previous owners of the coalmining industry represents interest payment.

:The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my Question. Can he say whether the whole of this £203 million is chargeable to the industry? If that is so, will he confirm that without this charge the nationalised coal industry would have made a handsome profit since 1947?

I have answered the Question correctly, but the hon. Gentleman's supplementary is quite a different proposition.

:With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the point. Is it not true that some part of the amount stated in the Question includes interest paid on the capital sum? Surely, it must do. Surely some interest has been paid.

I understand that £164 million was the valuation on the industry originally, but it is now more than £200 million. There must be some explanation.

:As the mining industry now belongs to the nation, can the Minister say what considerations the Government have given to this question of compensation being transferred from the mining industry and placed upon the Treasury?

:Are we to take it, then, that no consideration is being given to this aspect of the matter?

House Of Commons Catering (Prices)


asked the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, if he is aware that the index number of food has shown a decline for the past few months; and what foods, other than eggs, have been reduced in price in the Members' Dining Room and Tea Room during the last few months.

I am aware that the price index figure of food, has shown a decline, for the past few months. Although very welcome, the all-round fall has been slight, and while the prices of certain commodities have dropped, the cost of a number of popular items, such as tea, coffee, butter, etc., has risen. A number of dishes in the Members' Dining Room have however, been reduced from 2s. to 1s. 9d., including fillet of cod, blanquette of rabbit, braised heart, etc., and jugged hare from 2s. 6d. to 2s. 3d.

Is not the hon. Gentleman in the same position as the housewife? Is he aware that housewives appreciate that those items which have gone down in price according to the price index figure are those which are bought very occasionally, whereas such things as butter, bacon and cheese have gone up considerably? Are we to take it that that is the reason why there has not been a drop in the price of food in the Members' Dining Room?

:As the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee has gone into great detail in this matter, can he say why, if the price of cooked ham outside this House is 2s. 6d. per ½ lb., he is charging 2s. 6d. in the Tea Room for a very small slice?

:The price we pay for ham is 6s. 6d. and it works out at five portions to the pound. There is a lot of waste, and it does not leave a great deal of margin, but I would inform the right hon. Lady that the price of ham is under review.

Would it not be a very good thing if the price of food in the House of Commons was put up all round in order that we could repay the taxpayer for the losses sustained in the past?

:May we take it from the answer of the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee that he does not agree with the Minister of Food that the price of bacon, bread, meat, milk, butter, cheese, margarine and cooking fat is irrelevant to a consideration of the cost of living?

British Nationals, Suez Canal Zone (Attacks)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps he has taken to satisfy himself that the Egyptian Government are taking all possible steps to prevent attacks on British nationals in the Canal Zone and to apprehend and punish offenders when attacks do occur.

I am not satisfied that the Egyptian Government have throughout taken all possible steps to prevent attacks on British nationals in the Canal Zone, or to apprehend and punish offenders. During the months of November and December there was a period during which there were no serious incidents, but, as the House is aware, that period was followed by a series of deplorable happenings including the murders of British soldiers. Her Majesty's Government protested in the most vigorous terms, and for about the last 10 days, as far as I am aware, there has been no further serious incident.

:Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Egyptian Government that the British people are not in the least impressed by this thuggery, whether it is Egyptian Government sponsored or not, and that if they wish to continue negotiations with Her Majesty's Government, the necessary preliminary is to keep and maintain order in their own house?

:As I have told my hon. Friend, Her Majesty's Government protested in the most vigorous terms and, since the date of those protests, the situation has been much better.

Anglo-Japanese Trade Agreement

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will make a statement on the trade agreement signed with the Japanese Government on Friday, 29th January, 1954.

As I have been in charge of these negotiations on behalf of my right hon. Friend during his absence, he has asked me to make a statement.

Negotiations with representatives of the Japanese Government were concluded on 29th January when the Sterling Payments Agreement between the U.K. and Japan was renewed for one year until 31st December, 1954.

At the same time, there was a review of trade between Japan and the sterling area, in the light of Japan's heavy balance of payments deficit and acute shortage of sterling, which, in the absence of any action, would have compelled Japan to impose heavy restrictions on her purchases of sterling area goods. Her Majesty's Government considered it important to prevent a further intensification of these restrictions on trade, which were already having serious effects on a number of U.K. exports, visible and invisible.

As a result of this review, the value of British and colonial exports to Japan in 1954 should now be maintained at the 1953 level. The Japanese have also given satisfactory assurances on their imports of certain commodities of special interest to the U.K. and colonial exporters, on the treatment to be accorded to her imports of sterling oil and also on certain aspects of her shipping policy. For our part, having regard to Japan's shortage of sterling, we recognised that if this level of purchases were to be maintained, Japan must have further opportunities of earning sterling from her own exports.

While we were in balance of payments difficulties with Japan, Colonial Governments assisted us by restricting their purchases of Japanese goods to a level below what they would otherwise have imported. Now that such balance of payments difficulties no longer exist, and in view of the Japanese assurances on trade, we have informed the Colonial Governments that there is no longer, on these grounds, any need to restrict their imports of Japanese goods. In 1954, they will, therefore, be able to import up to their own estimated requirements (as previously notified to us), both for internal consumption and for the entrepôt trade where that exists.

We are also establishing limited import quotas in the U.K. for certain Japanese exports of a traditional character. These quotas are very small and are for one year only. In addition, there will be an import of £3 million worth of Japanese grey cloth for processing here and re-export. This figure itself is substantially below the quantities imported for 1950 and 1951.

I should like to make it clear that the tariff position generally, and Imperial Preference in particular, are in no way affected by this Agreement. Her Majesty's Government consider that this Agreement will be to the benefit of United Kingdom trade as a whole and of the sterling area generally.

:Since this Agreement is not merely a renewal of previous Agreements, but contains entirely new principles, I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman two questions. First, in view of the acute anxiety with which this Agreement is regarded, not only in Lancashire but in the Potteries and in other export districts, will he tell the House why there has apparently been no consultation with those areas, despite the fact that under the Labour Government we consulted all those interests before making any of these Agreements, especially where Japan was concerned? Secondly, while I am sure the whole House would not wish to use our position with the Colonies to force them to buy British goods if they did not want to, will the hon. Gentleman tell us why there has been this abrupt reversal in relation to colonial imports from Japan, instead of easing the situation by a gradual in-increase of quotas at a time when Lancashire is attempting to alter her marketing methods to meet colonial needs and at a time when Japanese competition is likely to be particularly virulent because she is denied her natural market in China?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to deal with those points, which, I know, are of importance and are causing some concern. On the first point, there is no change of principles either in the Agreement or underlying the Agreement. Secondly, on the point of consultation, I am informed that it has not been the principle either of this Government or of our predecessors to consult whole industries before increasing import quotas—for example, in the case of the liberalisation of European imports, I am sure that consultation did not take place. However, I understand that the President of the Board of Trade, on 21st January, informed the Consultative Committee for Industry, on which both sides are presented, of the probable course of the negotiations.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to pottery. To get this matter into perspective, I should say that the quota for this year for pottery imports represents rather less than one three-hundredth part of the total home sales of pottery.

So far as the Colonies are concerned. I know that there is considerable concern here and that this is a very important matter, but Her Majesty's Government had to face the situation that there are no longer any balance of payments reasons for asking the Colonial Governments to import fewer Japanese goods and more Lancashire goods. We know that the Colonial Governments will understand that it is in their interest to maintain their long-term connection with Lancashire, but we did not feel that in these circumstances—of no balance of payments difficulties remaining—we could ask the Colonies, on those grounds, to restrict their imports of Japanese goods. We have, therefore, felt it right to leave it to them to fix their import quotas.

:Is my hon. Friend satisfied that this Agreement, which is designed, no doubt, to improve the trade of the whole Empire, has not sacrificed the interests of Lancashire to any degree?

I am certain that this Agreement will improve the trade prospects of the Empire as a whole and of the United Kingdom as a whole. We shall have a substantial surplus on our trade with Japan from the United Kingdom. So far as Lancashire is concerned, I understand that the grey cloth to be imported is a type of cloth which, on the whole, it will be useful for the finishing end of the trade in Lancashire to have. As my right hon. Friend will have noticed from the announcement, all of this grey cloth is being re-exported, and if it were not processed and re-exported by this country it would probably be done by some other country.

:In view of the repercussions that this pact may have, not only on the export prospects of Lancashire but also upon the export prospects of Dominion countries like India, could the hon. Gentleman say what consultations took place with the Dominions and whether they agreed to this arrangement being made?

We were not negotiating, of course, on behalf of the independent sterling area countries in the matter of trade, but they furnished us with estimates of the likely course of trade. The actual Agreement is a payments Agreement, not a trade Agreement.

:Whatever the precedents may have been about consultation, because of the special effect on Lancashire in this case why was not the Cotton Board, at least, consulted?

:As a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend informed the cotton industry leaders, and particularly Sir Raymond Streat, on a confidential basis of the probable outcome of the negotiations. [Hon. Members: "Informed?"] This, in fact, was information, not consultation. As the hon. Gentleman particularly asked me about the Cotton Board, I think he should know that Sir Raymond Streat was informed of the process of negotiations.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the very clear statement by Sir Raymond Streat and other cotton trade leaders that they were not consulted? Is he further aware that, whatever the practice on European liberalisation, it was the invariable practice of the previous Government to consult the cotton industry and other industries concerned in the negotiation of a bilateral agreement, as this is a bilateral Agreement?

I understand that Sir Raymond Streat has given authority for the remarks which I have just made. As to consultation, I think that what I have said is adequate. Her Majesty's Government have many contacts in Lancashire and they are well aware of the view that Lancashire would take on cotton. The import of grey doth is the type of textile import which would do the least harm in Lancashire, and the type which some section of the industry would in fact welcome.

Can my hon. Friend say what representations he has had from the Colonial Governments asking the British Government to make such an Agreement so that they can obtain cloth, which they think might be cheaper from Japan than from Lancashire?

:In our dealings with Colonial Governments we were concerned to safeguard particularly their exports to Japan—in the case of the Uganda Government cotton is very important. We obtained an estimate of the amount of Japanese goods which they would wish to import when there were no balance of payments difficulties. We have informed them that as balance of payments difficulties do not exist any longer it is up to them to decide their own requirements.

:Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate now that the information which he communicated to the chairman of the, Cotton Board, and which he has now given to the House, has been received by the cotton manufacturing and export interests with consternation? Does he not consider that it would have been much better to have taken them into his confidence at an earlier stage and not simply faced them with anaccomplished fact by way of confidential information?

:I see no reason why this announcement should be received with consternation. I was in Manchester recently and had the opportunity of talking with leading members of the industry who gave their views. I am sure that all responsible people recognise that where there are no balance of payment difficulties it is impossible for this country to say to the Colonies, "You must restrict the import of Japanese goods in favour of Lancashire." I am sure that Lancashire people appreciate that.

:Can my hon. Friend give an estimate of the amount by which Japanese exports to the Colonial Empire are expected to increase in 12 months?

I could not give it off hand, but of the figure the larger element, possibly the major element, is entrepôt trade. Hong Kong, for example, will be buying goods from Japan in order to sell them to other territories.

:Mr. Speaker, I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,

"The conclusion of a trade and finance Agreement with the Government of Japan which, for the first time since the war, permits the entry of a wide range of Japanese consumer goods into the United Kingdom."

The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,

"The conclusion of a trade and finance Agreement with the Government of Japan which, for the first time since the war, permits the entry of a wide range of Japanese consumer goods into the United Kingdom."
I understand that this Agreement has been made and, therefore, I find it impossible to bring this Motion within the Standing Order on the ground of urgency. The Agreement has been signed and there is nothing that the House can do about it now, except possibly to dismiss the Government who have made it—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—if that be the will of the House. That is a process which can take place just as well on some future day as it can today, and I do not feel that in those circumstances I should be justified in interrupting the