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Written Answers

Volume 524: debated on Friday 26 February 1954

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Written Answers To Questions

Friday, 26th February, 1954


Dried Grass

asked the Minister of Agriculture what estimate he has made of the quantities of dried grass, in any form, which have been sold this season.

My Department's estimate of production and sales of dried grass of the 1953 season, based on a special return from agricultural holdings over one acre, will not be ready for about four weeks.

Peas Marketing Scheme

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will give information about the Peas Marketing Scheme.

asked the Minister of Agriculture how soon he anticipates he will be able to give a decision on the Peas Marketing Scheme, which he returned to the sponsors some four months ago with certain recommended amendments to which the sponsors have replied.

The reasons why I have not seen my way to proceed further with this scheme in the form submitted have been explained to the promoters. Discussions are continuing.

Forestry Commission

Industrial Staff

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many full-time workers are at present employed by the Forestry Commission in Wales; how this figure compares with a year ago; and what is the estimated number of workers to be recruited for 1954.

The number of full-time industrial staff employed by the Forestry Commission in Wales is 3,013 compared with 2,912 a year ago. It is expected that about 100 additional workers will be recruited during the current year.

Timber (Marketing)

asked the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement in regard to the setting up of a Departmental committee to examine and make recommendations as to the economic conditions and the future marketing problems of the home timber industry; and if he will state its terms of reference.

Ministry Of Food

Food And Drugs Bill (Regulations)

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that although the Food and Drugs (Amendment) Bill is unlikely to reach the Statute Book for several months, trade associations have already received from his Department a copy of 67 draft regulations proposed under that Bill, and a request for their observations thereon by 15th March; and, since the Bill may be amended before enactment and it is impossible for trade associations with large memberships to give adequate consideration to his detailed proposals in that time, if he will give instructions for a recasting of these arrangements.

Proposals for food hygiene regulations were circulated last month for comment to all organisations likely to be affected by them. The object is to ensure that they have ample opportunity to express their views. Representations received after 15th March will, of course, be fully considered, but 1 hope that the organisations will not unduly delay their examination of the proposals so that my Department may have their comments in good time.

Potatoes (Disposal)

asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the slowness with which the 1953 main crop of potatoes is being disposed of, he will consider the possibility of an advance payment for potatoes placed under contract with his Department.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave him on 27th January.

British Guiana (Land Drainage)

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what amounts from public funds have been spent on

YearColony FundsColonial Development and Welfare FundsTotal
Annually RecurrentExtraordinary
1953 (Revised Estimate)593,483800,599661,3202,055,402
1954 (Estimate)723,830909,2052,280,0003,913,035
(* B.W.I. $ = 4s. 2d.)

Gas Production (Butane-Air Plants)

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what applications he has received for allocation of foreign currency for the purchase of butane-air plants as an alternative to gas manufacture in Wales; what reports he has received from the officers of his research department on the success of this development; and what further experiments with this supply he intends conducting in the rural parts of Wales.

The Wales Gas Board have received licences to import three such plants from the United States and have also imported one plant from France under open general licence. I understand that the plants have so far proved satisfactory. The Board are now considering the installation of additional plants and are experimenting with the use of propane in place of butane.


Supplies, East Kilbride

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement about the state of fuel supplies at East Kilbride, Lanarkshire,

drainage and irrigation in British Guiana during each of the last 10 years.

The table below sets out expenditure during each of the years from 1945 onwards. Figures for earlier years are not available in this relation to quantity of household grades, having regard to the rapid increase of housing and population in the new town.

I am making inquiries and will write to my hon. Friend as soon as possible.

Merchants (Registrations)

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what arrangements he is making to enable householders to change their coal merchants this year.

Householders will be able this year to change their merchants at any one time during the months of May, June and July on giving notice to the local fuel overseer. Detailed instructions will be issued shortly.

National Assistance (Applications)

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how far his regulations provide that applicants for National Assistance have a right to have their cases investigated solely by correspondence where they object to any form of personal interview.

The National Assistance (Administration of Assistance) Regulations, 1948, do not contain any provision enabling an applicant for Assistance to insist on having his case dealt with solely by correspondence.

Postmen (Small Change)

asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what sum is issued to postmen on the beginning of their rounds; of what coins this sum is composed; how long ago the sum in question was decided upon; and whether he is satisfied that it is adequate for the many small doorstep transactions requiring the giving of change for which the postman is responsible.

It has never been the practice to issue a sum of money to postmen at the beginning of their rounds for giving change and, so far as I am aware, this has not hitherto given rise to difficulty, but if my hon. Friend will let me have details of any case he has in mind, I will gladly look into it.

Teachers (Science And Mathematics)

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects the Appleton Committee on the supply of science and mathematics teachers to report.

The Committee have had eight meetings, but I cannot at present forecast when they will be able to report.

Woolwich Arsenal (Government Proposals)

asked the Minister of Supply whether, in the light of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Estimates, he has now reached a decision about the future role of Woolwich Arsenal and about measures to be taken for the better use of the land and facilities on the site; and whether he will make a statement.

The Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, which was founded about 250 years ago, covers an area of 1,300 acres. About 14,000 persons are employed on the site, which is at present wholly occupied by Government establishments. These include shell and small arms ammunition works, an explosives filling plant, a gun and gun-carriage factory, research establishments, ranges and proof butts, ammunition magazines, as well as Admiralty and War Office workshops and stores.At the beginning of 1937, the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield and the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey were the only Ordnance Factories. However, the increasing variety of weapons and equipment required for modern war, together with the exceptional vulnerability to air attack of the Greater London area made it necessary greatly to-expand the Government's munitions-making capacity and to disperse it more widely.Accordingly, between 1937 and the end of the war some 40 additional Royal Ordnance Factories were set up in various parts of the country, each specially equipped for some particular branch of production, such as artillery weapons, machine guns, small arms, shell and shell cases, small arms ammunition, high explosives, propellants, ammunition and bomb filling, tanks and chemicals. A number of these factories were closed when hostilities ceased, but about 20 of them have continued to operate and constitute today an important part of our war potential.During the war the Arsenal was extensively damaged by bombing and many of the functions previously undertaken at Woolwich were transferred to one or other of the new specialist factories elsewhere. The result was that, when the war ended, the Arsenal was left with no clearly defined role. In view of the uncertainty about its future, expenditure on repairs and modernisation was kept down to the minimum. Consequently many of the buildings have become dilapidated and much of the line production plant is now more or less obsolete.The position was examined by the Select Committee on Estimates for the Session 1951-52, which recommended that:

"The question of the use of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and its fuller integration with the whole organisation of the Royal Ordnance Factories should be given immediate consideration; "and that" the possibilities of concentrating the work and releasing as much as possible of the site for other development should be carefully examined."

Following upon this Report, I set up an Inter-Departmental Committee of Inquiry, composed of officials of the Government Departments concerned, under the chairmanship of Sir Donald Perrott. I instructed this Committee to review the activities now being carried on in Woolwich Arsenal and to make recommendations regarding the future use of the land and facilities available there. In addition, I asked the Royal Ordnance Factories Board to make a separate study of the special problems affecting the three Ordnance Factories on the Arsenal site.

After full inquiries lasting several months, they submitted to me a number of important recommendations which together constituted a comprehensive plan of reorganisation. I gave the House a summary of these recommendations on 27th July last. At the same time I made it dear that, before deciding whether to adopt these proposals, I intended to give to the workpeople, the public authorities, and all others affected a full opportunity to study them and comment upon them.

During the autumn I received a number of memoranda containing detailed observations upon the proposed plan. Since then my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I have had a series of meetings with representatives of organisations concerned, including the London County Council, the Woolwich Borough Council, the Ministry of Supply Whitley Council, the Ministry of Supply Joint Industrial Council and the Woolwich Combined Shop Stewards Committee.

These consultations have shown that there is general agreement that some major re-organisation of the Arsenal site is long overdue and that the part to be played by Woolwich, within the system of the Royal Ordnance Factories, needs to be redefined in the light of changed circumstances. These thorough and detailed discussions have left me convinced of the soundness of the proposed re-organisation plan which I outlined to the House last July. I have therefore decided to adopt this plan, which comprises five main features.

  • (1) The filling factory, most of which is in a derelict condition, will be dismantled; and the site, when decontaminated and cleared, will be made available for use by industry or by some public authority.
  • (2) The gun and ammunition factories will be amalgamated into a single ordnance factory, which will concentrate upon work suited to the special skill and experience of the Arsenal, in particular, experimental and development work in connection with armaments and ammunition, batch production, modifications and reconditioning of equipment, and the manufacture of tools and gauges. In due course this factory will cease to undertake regular line production.
  • (3) A site of about 100 acres on the south side, will be sold for use as an industrial estate to accommodate London firms which have to leave their present premises and cannot move out of the London area. The London County Council has informed me that it would be interested in acquiring this site for such a purpose and detailed discussions are proceeding.
  • (4) The remainder of the central area will be made available to the Service Departments, thus enabling them to bring together their engineering workshops, stores and other facilities, which are at present scattered, and also to move into the Arsenal certain activities from elsewhere.
  • (5) The low-lying marshland at the eastern end of the site, which will for some years continue to be required for the storage and transit of explosives, will gradually be raised above river level by means of controlled tipping so that in due course it may be possible to turn it to more valuable uses.
  • In the course of the consultations to which I have referred, a number of constructive suggestions were made about the use of particular buildings, about the possibility of retaining the boiling-out plant, about additional types of work suitable for Woolwich, about certain wage problems and various other matters. In carrying through the reorganisation, all these suggestions will be most carefully considered.

    In particular, every effort will be made to avoid causing hardship to the workpeople at the Arsenal. In this connection the trade union representatives concerned have urged that the labour force should be maintained at its present level. It is impossible for me to give any definite assurances about the future level of employment at the Arsenal, since this will to a large extent depend upon the volume of suitable defence orders. However, when the re-organisation is completed, it seems probable that, whilst the number of Government employees will be smaller, the labour force on the Arsenal site as a whole, including the trading estate, will in total be larger than today.

    Since the reorganisation will, necessarily be spread over several years, any necessary reductions will, to an appreciable extent, be brought about by the process of normal wastage. In any case, the plan will be kept flexible and the timing of the various stages will be phased with due regard to the employment position in the locality.

    For their part, the London County Council have assured me that, assuming they purchase the industrial estate, they will endeavour to encourage firms to establish themselves in this area which are of a type capable of providing suitable employment for persons who may become redundant in the ordnance factory.

    At my invitation a special Consultative Committee, composed of officials and trade union representatives, has been set up for the purpose of considering together the various problems which will arise during the progress of the reorganisation. The Committee will report to me from time to time and will have access to me when necessary.

    After exhaustive consideration, 1 am satisfied that the plan which I have announced will provide a constructive and workable solution to this complex and long-standing problem. It will give to Woolwich Arsenal a more important and distinctive role in our armament production system and one worthy of the part played in the past by this historic institution. It will, as desired by the Select Committee, secure the concentration of the Arsenal's munitions-making activities, which are now widely dispersed, and will justify the provision of more up-to-date plant and facilities for those engaged on this work. In addition it will bring into being a civilian industrial estate, capable of providing substantial employment; and, over a longer period, it will enable other parts of this valuable riverside site to be progressively freed for more productive uses.