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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 8 April 1954

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Trade And Commerce

Merchandise Marks Acts (Complaints)

1.

asked the President of the Board of Trade the result of his investigation into the allegations made against the Supreme Supply Company by the hon. Member for Coventry, South; and whether he has decided to initiate a prosecution under the Merchandise Marks Acts as the offences complained of took place after 1st February last.

I have had a pair of the advertised gauntlets purchased by one of my officers and examined by experts. They were found to comply substantially with the description in the advertisement. I am advised that this description was not false or misleading in any material respect, that there is no prima facie evidence of a breach of the Merchandise Marks Acts, and that there are no grounds for instituting proceedings.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the word in his reply which demands attention is "substantially"? Is he further aware that I have here a pair of gloves which I bought, and which certainly conflict in every way with the advertisement? If I send these gloves to the President, will he have them examined to see whether or not they conform to the advertisement?

The word "substantially" appears not only in my answer but in the Act. The gloves which I have examined do not conflict with the Act. If the hon. Lady has another pair of gloves, perhaps she will institute proceedings.

In evidence before you, Mr. Speaker—as the right hon. Gentleman has spent a lot of time writing letters to me—may I say that I have these gloves in my hand now, and that I shall give them to the right hon. Gentleman after Questions?

2.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that J. Radcliffe and Company, Limited, J. and S. Taylor, Limited, and J. J. L. and C. Peate (Guiseley) Limited, have been offering wool and camelhair cloth with a two per cent. content of camel-hair; that William Edleston, Limited, Job Beaumont and Sons, Limited, and Holywell Textile Mills, Limited, have also been offering one with a seven per cent. content of camelhair; and, as each of these six firms has also offered labels with the cloths concerned, if he will investigate the matter with a view to prosecution under the Merchandise Marks Acts.

My investigations have established that these cloths are manufactured to the specifications of customers. I am advised that in these circumstances there is not a satisfactory case for prosecuting the manufacturers, but I am investigating subsequent transactions.

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that I have been informed that he had sent his inspectors to investigate these matters and that, in anticipation of his refusal, I have here a specimen of the cloth? Will he tell the House why, when I brought this serious matter to his attention some time ago, he told me that I had not sent him sufficient detail to investigate further and yet, when I sent him half as much information as I gave him the first time, he has decided to take action?

The hon. Lady does not always send me the evidence when she makes these charges. It would be helpful if she did. In this case, now that I have the facts, it is clear that no case would lie against the manufacturers, who are manufacturing these articles to customers' requirements, but I am investigating subsequent transactions, and it is possible that a case may lie there.

Miss Burton. I am calling the hon. Lady to ask Question No. 3, and I shall be greatly obliged if she will contrive to compress her supplementary questions.

On a point of order. I admit this is a conditional question, Sir, but if I were to ask a Question about nursery schools and their treatment of children should I have to bring along a child?

I am sorry if my supplementary question was lengthy, but I asked only one, Sir. On occasion, Mr. Speaker, you kindly allow two. May 1 therefore suggest, with great respect, that my supplementary question was not too long in the circumstances?

On a point of order. Is it not a little unfortunate that only the hon. Lady who asked the Question is allowed to put supplementary questions, and other hon. Members who have an interest in the matter are not allowed the same opportunity?

When an hon. Member puts down a Question for answer in the House he should be allowed to pursue his own hare. It is not always proper for other hon. Members to join in.

3.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he proposes to take with regard to the Masnaga bedspread, about which he has been informed, which was made in Italy by Giuseppe Rossini of Como; whether he is aware that this was imported into this country bearing a ticket marked 90 by 100 although in fact measuring only 84 by 91½ inches; that the bedspreads did not bear a label securely attached to each article showing the country of origin; and whether, as these are contraventions of the Merchandise Marks Acts, he will initiate a prosecution against the importers.

The hon. Member referred me for further information to an organisation known as the Retail Trading Standards Association, but it was unable to give any assistance in the matter. I did, however, obtain enough evidence from other enquiries to satisfy me that there were insufficient grounds for prosecution.

I am sorry, but I must disagree with that information. The right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed by his advisers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he asked me for further details, on 15th March, I referred him to the Retail Trading Standards Association, which has given him full details relating to these cases? Will he not, therefore, look into the matter, and withdraw his statement subsequently when he finds that I am right? May I have an answer?

Since it would appear that in this case the requirements that would have had to be complied with when the Utility scheme was in existence were not complied with, and as there would have been a deterrent through Purchase Tax on these items, does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that a great many of the difficulties being created at present are the result of his having got rid of the Utility scheme?

I beg to give notice that, as the replies to all three of my Questions have been very unsatisfactory, I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

12.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if, in view of the present inadequacy of his Department to deal with complaints of infringements of the Merchandise Marks Acts, he will establish a new section of his Department for this purpose and to initiate prosecutions where necessary.

I do not accept the suggestion made in the first part of the Question. The second part does not, therefore, arise.

Is the President aware that the suggestion in the first part of the Question arises directly from what he has himself stated in the House: that it would be intolerable if citizens complained to his Department about infringements of the Merchandise Marks Act and his Department could not cope with them? I am suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should set up a new section in his Department which could cope with them. Will he give an assurance, therefore, that he welcomes citizens complaining about infringements of the Act and that his Department will take action and, therefore, save a good deal of time which is taken in raising questions in the House?

I cannot accept the hon. Member's interpretation of what I said on a previous occasion. I do not feel that the public interest is served by ever greater increases in the size of Government Departments.

19.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many complaints he has received since 1st February last from members of the public about infringements of the Merchandise Marks Acts.

Is the President aware that the only people who will be satisfied with his pretence that, by and large, the enforcement of these Acts has little or nothing to do with him, will be the manufacturers and makers of shoddy goods which are falsely described to the public?

The Question asks how many complaints I have had, and the answer is that there have been 10. It has nothing to do with the activities of the Board of Trade.

Six of the cases proved to be unsuitable for prosecution and four are still under consideration.

Generally speaking, are not shopkeepers who sell inferior goods likely to antagonise their customers, and are not makers of inferior goods likely to antagonise those who buy from them? Is this not the best corrective in the long run?

Yes, certainly. The very small number of cases in which there are breaches of the Merchandise Marks Acts must be weighed against the large number of cases in which British manufacturers and retailers sell good quality articles.

Japanese Goods

4.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what further assurances he has received from the Japanese Government that the promises made when the Japanese peace treaty was ratified, regarding fair trading, improvements in workers' standards and other matters, are being fulfilled.

Japan has acceded to all the international conventions which she undertook to join at the signing of the Peace Treaty, including the Madrid Agreement for the prevention of false indication of origin of goods. The Japanese authorities have been co-operative in putting a stop to the copying of designs.

Does that mean that they have also carried out their undertaking about the development of trade unions? Are they allowing democracy and trade unions to develop in Japan, in the way we understand them?

Yes, I think they have now subscribed to the International Labour Organisation. They have joined all the organisations they undertook to join and signed the conventions they undertook to sign at the signing of the Peace Treaty.

Since the signing of these conventions have there not been reports made by our Commercial Attache in Tokio of infringements of designs? What action has the right hon. Gentleman taken to draw the attention of the Japanese authorities to those cases?

There have been some reports, and I would urge any hon. Member, no matter in what quarter of the House he sits, who hears of a case that can be substantiated not by rumour but by solid evidence, to draw it to my attention.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons why Manchester merchants, at any rate, are not reporting some cases to him is that they have no confidence that he will follow them up adequately? Does he remember that when, through his good offices, a conference was convened in Manchester, the only proposal that came out of it was a proposal that merchants should send copies of all their registered designs to the Japanese so that they could look at them and ask traders not to copy them?

I am quite certain that merchants in Manchester, if they know of cases, will draw them to the attention of the Board of Trade.

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what types of brooms and brushes are included in the permitted imports from Japan into this country and the Colonial Empire under the sterling payments agreement of 29th January, 1954; and by how much he estimates the needs of this country cannot be met by the production from existing home industries.

All types of brooms, and brushes, other than those containing precious metal, can be imported into the United Kingdom within the recently established quota for Japan. The Trade and Payments Agreement contained no special provisions for imports of brooms and brushes into the Colonies.

As regards the second part of the Question, the United Kingdom exports many more brooms and brushes than she imports.

Why is it necessary to import brooms and brushes if our home industry is capable of supplying our own needs and more?

We could not carry on very long as a trading nation if we adopted that commercial principle. We export many more than we import.

Imported Products (Marking)

5.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, on imported articles, stick-on labels which bear the name of the country of origin comply with his regulations; and whether he is satisfied that they are a proper method of indicating the manufacturers and country of origin.

Orders in Council made under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, always specify the manner in which the indication of origin should be applied. In some instances an adhesive label is allowed. The law does not require manufacturers' names to be indicated.

Does that mean that it is in order to import pottery and textiles with no stamp showing the country in which they were manufactured?

Each article of pottery has to be marked indelibly by stamping, printing, embossing or impressing.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a large quantity of pottery is being exported from Japan to the American market with different markings of origin? Will he consult the interested organisations with a view to making representations to the authorities in the United States about this?

6.

asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent under his regulations merchants and manufacturers abroad can import into this country pottery or textiles marked "Foreign," "Empire," or with the country of origin, to suit their own convenience; and whether he will amend the Merchandise Marks Acts to enable a stricter control to be exercised.

These alternatives are permissible under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, and the Orders in Council issued thereunder, requiring marking of origin on imported textile piece goods and pottery.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the administration of the Merchandise Marks Act?

Yes. I think the law as laid down in the Merchandise Marks Acts is administered satisfactorily.

Does the President not remember that we raised this very point during the passage of the Act and tried to insist that the name of the country of origin should be marked on the goods, and that we were given an assurance that the situation would be much improved? It seems that these practices are still continuing.

Revolving Fund For Industry (Applications)

7.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many applications have been received for loans from the Revolving Loan Fund established with counterpart funds in accordance with Command Paper No. 8918; how many have been approved; and what has been the average size of loan granted.

Three hundred and twenty-one applications for loans from the Revolving Fund for Industry had been received up to the end of March, and the Advisory Committee set up to examine them had recommended loans in 32 cases, subject to negotiation of the necessary agreements. These negotiations are in various stages and in a few cases are approaching completion. The average amount of the loans recommended is approximately £10,000.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the number of loans approved is such a very small proportion of the total applied for? Can he indicate the types of industries to which loans have been granted?

I could not answer the second part of that supplementary question without notice. There are a great number of industries that would feel that they would benefit from certain facilities for borrowing money, but I think it is right to concentrate lending to those cases from which real advantage to productivity may accrue through lending.

Ulster Commercial Vehicles (Irish Republic Import Duty)

8.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that owners of commercial vehicles in the Irish Republic can bring such vehicles across the border into Ulster on payment of an annual fee of 2s. 6d., whereas owners in Ulster have to pay an import duty of one-third the value of the vehicle even if only one journey is made; and whether he will take action to remove this anomaly either by raising the import duty or by making representations to the Government of the Irish Republic, with a view to achieving reciprocity.

9.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make representations to the Irish Republican Government, with a view to achieving reciprocal treatment for commercial vehicles crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

I am aware of this anomaly and I regret very much that the authorities in the Irish Republic, who know our views, have not so far corrected it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the duty on Ulster vehicles going into the Republic may amount to £1,000 or even more and that it is not recoverable? Is he aware also that the Board of Trade has been pressing the Dublin authorities, by correspondence, to give equitable treatment to Ulster for many years? Does he not consider that it is about time that he addressed them in the only way they can understand, and that is by the imposition of a quid pro quo on their vehicles coming north? Or are we to allow this injustice to be perpetrated in perpetuity?

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend. I understand that there are some difficulties about treating imports from Southern Ireland in the same way as it treats imports from Ulster, but I will communicate with the Northern Ireland Government to ascertain their views on this subject.

While not wishing to do anything to disturb normal trading relations between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that this is a glaring example of inequitable treatment, and whether he will consider pursuing the action proposed by my hon. Friend?

Film Quota Defaulters (Prosecutions)

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many prosecutions have now been initiated against film quota defaulters for the year 1951–52.

Proceedings have begun in three cases. Counsel is advising in a number of further cases and some are receiving consideration in Scotland.

As there were over 1,000 cases of exhibitors failing to fulfil in this year the quota of 30 per cent. of feature films, does the right hon. Gentleman regard this as satisfactory action?

I think the hon. Gentleman is mixing up failure to fulfil the basic quota with offences under the Act. They are separate things.

Overseas Countries (Subsidised Exports)

14.

asked the President of the Board of Trade the policy of his Department when the interests of this country are adversely affected by the action of another signatory of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in subsidising exports.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade does not prohibit export subsidies, but provides for consultations if these cause or threaten serious prejudice to the interests of other member countries. We should invoke this provision of the Agreement where-ever this seemed likely to help us.

To what extent has this been invoked in the past, and what occasion has there been for invoking it?

It has practically never been invoked. It is of very limited application. It is necessary to show some serious prejudice to the trader in the country into which the goods are imported. Of course, the maximum damage always operates in third markets.

Lisbon Fair

15.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the failure to stage a British trade fair in Lisbon, he will make a statement on the steps to be taken to prevent the financial burdens of such projects abroad falling entirely upon a few private firms and individuals.

The decision not to hold the Lisbon Trade Fair was taken not because the firms concerned objected to the expense, but because it seemed unlikely that the Fair would be a success. It is usual for expenses to be covered by receipts, so the second part of the Question does not arise.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not take the view that these trade fairs play an important part in building up British exports and prestige? Does it not seem a pity, for the sake of £8,000, not to hold this fair, which, in the face of growing German competition, might well have made a useful contribution to our export markets?

I certainly agree that fairs can play a useful part in the promotion of our exports. We have to be guided by industrial advice, and particularly the advice of local businessmen on the spot, as we were on this occasion.

Preparations, Birmingham (Complaints)

16.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he has taken to secure evidence that certain medical and cosmetic preparations, recently exposed as worthless by the Birmingham City analyst, have been on sale in shops; and whether he will now announce that proceedings are to be taken under the Merchandise Marks Act.

These preparations do not appear to be on sale in shops, but by mail. I am continuing my inquiries.

Why did the President not get in touch with the people who made the original investigation? Is he aware that I have found out by a simple inquiry that this stuff, which he knows to be composed mainly of Epsom, Glauber and common salts, is called "Slimswift" and is made at 3, Grand Parade, Brighton, where there are three rooms, where, yesterday, I had a relative go along and offer to buy some of the stuff, and where it was on sale? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not take action? Why are his officials so dilatory that Members of the House have to do his work for him?

I am not being dilatory. I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me the benefit of his inquiries. I am making my own inquiries, and if satisfactory evidence is available I shall consider a prosecution.

Why have no inquiries been made of the city analyst, who could have given the right hon. Gentleman this information in the first place, in the same way as it was given to me? That is how I was able to follow up the investigation.

The same thought had occurred to me, and inquiries have been made.

Light Industries, Barry

18.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will take steps to encourage light industries to come to Barry, in order to meet problems due to the absence since the war of the large coal shipments upon which the prosperity of the town and port was based.

A considerable amount of new industry has been established in and near Barry since the war. We should be glad to see further suitable developments in the area, but we have also to consider the needs of other parts of the Development Area and what resources are available.

Departmental Prosecutions

20.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many prosecutions have been initiated by his Department since 1st February last; and for what breaches of the law these prosecutions were initiated.

Between 1st February, 1954, and 5th April, 1954, my Department initiated criminal proceedings in 95 cases. These involved offences under the Companies Acts, the Bankruptcy Acts, the Cinematograph Films Acts, the Statistics of Trade Act, Hire Purchase and Credit Sale Agreements (Control) Order, the Deeds of Arrangements Act, the Larceny Act, and the Registration of Business Names Act.

Will the President amplify that reply and indicate what proportion of these prosecutions related to his duties under die Companies Acts and the Registration of Business Names Act? It seems clear that in the other fields where he could be active the right hon. Gentleman is showing a degree of inactivity which would justify an even bigger cut than £1,000 a year in the Ministerial salary.

I do not think that my success as President of the Board of Trade can be judged by the number of prosecutions I institute.

Traders (Stop List)

21.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a particular reference to the Monopolies Commission of the practice whereby trade association's fine traders for giving a discount upon articles sold, and exact this fine by threatening to place the trader upon the association's stop list.

This practice falls within the scope of the general inquiry which the Commission are already conducting under Section 15 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948.

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect the result of the inquiry, which has now been under way for a considerable time?

Gloves (Imports From Hong Kong)

22.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that many of the gloves imported into this country from Hong Kong have previously been imported into Hong Kong, where their trade marks have been removed and some embroidery added after which new labels marked made in Hong Kong have been added; and if he will take steps to prevent such goods from flooding the market here to the detriment of English manufacturers.

I have received no evidence to support the allegations to which the hon. Member refers. If he will provide me with details of any specific case I shall gladly investigate it.

Has the Minister made any inquiries in this matter? Does he not know that the quantity of knitted gloves now being sent out of Hong Kong is in excess of any that can be fully manufactured there? How does he account for the fact that gloves of this nature are coming in marked "Made in Hong Kong," when many of them are undoubtedly made outside Hong Kong?

I have made very close inquiries and am informed that knitted woollen gloves made in Japan and merely embellished or embroidered in Hong Kong would not enjoy Imperial Preference.

Will the Minister make further inquiries, and, if he finds that these gloves have been sent to Hong Kong, and only 25 per cent. value has been added there, will he stop this practice?

I have made very close inquiries. If the hon. Member has any further evidence, I shall be glad to consider it.

23.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that cheap labour plus a freedom from Customs tariffs result in gloves made in the Far East being sold at prices below those charged for British manufactures, and what steps he proposes to take to assist British manufacturers.

I have received complaints that knitted woollen gloves made in Hong Kong are being sold here at lower prices than gloves made in the United Kingdom, but have no evidence of malpractice in this trade. It would be contrary to the policy of Her Majesty's Government to impose protective quotas or duties on imports from Hong Kong or any other Colonial Territories.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his reply as to comparison of prices is an understatement and that these gloves are being sold at less than half the price at which they can be manufactured in this country? Will he also inquire into the position regarding employment, figures having been given which, in the view of Leicester manufacturers, are not correct? Will he also assure the Leicester manufacturers and others that he will take steps to stop this practice?

The hon. Member is raising separate points. I am not concerned here with the question of price at which the gloves are sold, but with whether they are manufactured in Hong Kong. If they are manufactured in Hong Kong, of course they qualify for Imperial Preference.

In view of the unsatisfactory answers which have been given, I shall seek an early opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment.

Savoy Hotels, Ltd (Directors' Observations)

24.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is now in a position to state what steps he intends to take about the observations received from the directors of the Savoy Hotels, Ltd.

I am sure the President will agree that this matter ought not to be left in suspension much longer. He has had these observations for about a month. When will he be able to make a statement to the House?

These matters raise complicated points of company administration and law. I am pressing on with these investigations as quickly as I can and I should hope to be able to make an announcement about it fairly soon.

Is this yet another example of what the Prime Minister called the fanatical activity of the President of the Board of Trade?

I hope it is an example of the cool, calm and calculated consideration that I give to all matters.

Civil Service

Political Activities

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he will now publish a table showing the total number of civil servants in each Department; the numbers who are now allowed to take part in all political activities; the number allowed to take part in certain political activities, and how this restriction applies; and the number who are not allowed to take part in any political activities at all as a result of Command Paper No. 8783.

As the answer contains a very large number of very complicated figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Could the right hon. Gentleman give us the total number involved in this Question, and say why it is that a large number of responsible people are deprived of these political rights, which are recognised by the United Nations as necessary and justifiable?

On the first point, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at the answer. On the second, when he does look at it, I think he will find that the result as compared with the position under previous schemes is not unsatisfactory.

Following are the figures:

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF CIVIL SERVANTS
INTERMEDIATE GROUP (See Note 6)
DepartmentStaff of Department on 1st January, 1954Free group (See Note 5)Standing permission to engage in all political activities for which members of group are eligibleRequired to seek permission individually to engage in any of the political activities for which members of group are eligibleRemain der of group (see Note 7)Total in groupRestricted group (See Note 8)
Admiralty33,9222,91221,4231221,4359,575
Agriculture and Fisheries13,0671,5325,1472,5507,6973,838
Air26,5693,19817,5621430517,8815,490
Customs and Excise15,2102,5323,360153,3759,303
Education2,9935991,2691,2691,125
Food17,7592,6744,1126,82110,9334,152
Foreign Office5,5791,0186191,4582,0772,484
Forestry Commission2,233906299731,602541
Fuel and Power2,5502631,1611851,346941
Health6,0461,2363,3903,3901,420
Home Office3,3824561,6191,6191,307
Housing and Local Government3,2523321,3491,3491,571
Inland Revenue53,4453,4218,19728,23336,43013,594
Labour25,7003,5174,49611,66816,1646,019
National Assistance Board9,9436761,8214,1245,9453,322
Ordnance Survey4,3174,00125725759
Pensions and National Insurance38,8263,49417,38810,68528,0737,259
Post Office258,531215,49432,1431,83433,9779,060
Prison Commission6,6635,118801801744
Scientific and Industrial Research3,0731351,4824471,9291,009
Stationery Office3,1181,1548676761,543421
Supply32,9342,68613,5505,39818,94811,300
Trade7,1691,1163,0784853,5632,490
Transport and Civil Aviation10,7562,8043,6185464,1643,788
War Office39,2872, 07331,4114231,4535,761
Works14,5082,3068,661118,6723,530
OTHER DEPARTMENTS28,0855,72310,2271,86585012,9429,815
TOTAL (non-industrial staff)668,917270,560191,75378,2998,782278,834119,918
Add industrial staff all Departments427,223427,223
GRAND TOTAL1,096,140697,783278,834119,918
NOTES
1. As a number of Departments are in consultation with their Departmental Whitley Councils about the classification of staff, the figures are given provisional.
2. Departments with staffs totalling fewer than 2,000 are included, but are not shown separately.
3. Part-time staffs are included and counted as wholetimers.
4. The Department of Atomic Energy has been omitted.
5. Members of this Group are free from all restrictions.
6. Members of this Group are eligible for permission to engage in all political activities, national and local, except Parliamentary candidature, subject to a code of discretion.
7. The staff here shown will be subject to special rules, notably in respect of local political activities.
8. Members of this Group are debarred from engaging in national political activities, but are free to seek permission to engage in local political activities.

Superannuation Pensions (Payment)

25.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what saving in clerical establishment would be involved if civil servants' superannuation pensions were to be paid three-monthly instead of monthly; and what he estimates would be the annual financial saving to the Exchequer.

Is there any reason why this economy should not be made since teachers' salaries are already paid three months in arrear? If there is any reason why it should not be made is the reason not equally applicable to the teachers' case.

The question of teachers' pensions is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. The pensions of civil servants are regulated by the Superannuation Act.

National Finance

Private Banking Account Interest Disclosures (Revenue)

26.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what additional revenue he estimates has resulted from the provision in the Finance Act, 1951, authorising the disclosure by banks of private banking accounts to the Inland Revenue.

There is no provision authorising disclosure of private banking accounts. Section 27 of the Finance Act, 1951, authorised only disclosure of interest paid or credited in excess of £15 per annum. Up to 31st March, 1953, the amount of unassessed tax and penalties recovered as a result of this Section was £7 million. Since that date separate figures are not available.

Hospital Consultants (Expenses)

27 and 28.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what consultations have taken place between the Treasury and the Ministry of Health with regard to the expenses of hospital consultants employed in the National Health Service which are not deductible for Income Tax purposes; and what steps he proposes to meet this problem;

(2) whether he is aware that hospital consultants employed in the National Health Service incur many expenses for which they can make no Income Tax rebate claim on their Schedule E assessments; and whether he will introduce legislation to remedy this hardship.

Hospital consultants are, like other employees, assessible under Schedule E, and the same rules with respect to expenses apply to them as to other taxpayers so assessed. I see no reason to propose legislation giving them preferential treatment. The general question of what expenses are admissible to such taxpayers is within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a case to be looked into here, because there is a conflict of opinion between the appointing authorities and the Revenue authorities? The appointing authorities will not appoint a consultant unless he has a motor car, a secretary and a telephone and the Revenue will not allow these for expenses. Therefore, a consultant has necessarily to incur expenses which he cannot deduct for tax purposes. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter?

I have seen the letter which my hon. and gallant Friend sent to my right hon. Friend on this subject. The Revenue authorities are bound to apply the existing law, and it is perfectly clear that these taxpayers are liable to be assessed under Schedule E. On the question of motor cars, consultants get mileage allowances, and Questions on that subject are for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health.

My right hon. Friend answered my first Question by saying that he would not be prepared to introduce legislation, but does not the latter part of his answer show that new legislation is required? Would he look at it again, because it affects them rather hardly?

The broad question is within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. I cannot see any justification, pending the issue of its Report, for treating these people for tax purposes in any way different from other taxpayers who are taxed as employees.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that consultants are not treated the same as general practitioners for this purpose? Will he not try to make an adjustment as between the consultants and general practitioners?

That is just the sort of question which is for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. I am concerned only with the administration of the tax law.

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice I shall raise the matter at the earliest opportunity.

India (Loan Conditions)

32.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how far the mission sent by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to India is insisting that loans to India shall be dependent upon India's accepting the principle of private enterprise in the industries affected; and whether he will give instructions to the United Kingdom representative on the board of the Bank to press than no such political conditions should be attached to the Bank's loans.

There have recently been several International Bank Missions to India and I do not know to which the right hon. Member is referring.

On the second part of the Question, I would refer the right hon. Member to Section 10 of Article IV of the International Bank Agreement, which provides expressly for the exclusion of political considerations from decisions of the Bank.

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for that answer, may I ask whether he is aware that there has been a report in the Ceylon Press recently to the effect that the World Bank Mission is putting pressure of this kind on the Indian Government? In view of the statements made at the time of the Colombo Plan, and also of authoritative American reports, that public enterprise will be needed on a great scale in countries like India, will the hon. Gentleman make sure that the Charter of the Bank is upheld?

I was not aware of that report, but I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity of saying that, so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, we stand entirely by the original Article of the Bank which says that in making its decisions the Bank and its officers shall consider only economic considerations as being relevant.

Purchase Tax Registration

34.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why he is unable to give separate figures for wholesalers and manufacturers who have defaulted in, or evaded payments of, Purchase Tax during 1953, in view of the fact that each are separately registered.

Because Customs' head office records are not kept in this form, and detailed examination of the local records would be necessary. This would involve altogether disproportionate labour and expense. In any event, many registered traders are both wholesalers and manufacturers.

In view of the fact that on several occasions recently Her Majesty's Commissioners for Customs and Excise have withdrawn the wholesale registration while allowing registration to remain with the same firms for a part of their business which is manufacturing, thereby making it clear, and in accordance with the Act, that they are separate registrations, why cannot this information be given?

I think, when my hon. Friend has studied my answer, he may understand why this information cannot be given.

35.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the amount saved in administrative costs by the Commissioners for Customs and Excise during the year ended 31st December, 1953, as a result of Purchase Tax registration being withdrawn from wholesalers during the year.

As, during a recent debate on the Adjournment, my right hon. Friend stated, and in letters it has been stated, that one of the reasons for withdrawing Purchase Tax registration from wholesalers is to save administrative costs, why should we not be told of the approximate amount of saving effected by this action?

Because it is impossible to break down the precise elements in the cost of administration of a large service such as this in order to say that one element would be saved and one would not. It is perfectly clear, however, that the larger the number of points at which this tax is collected, the higher the administrative cost.

But in view of the fact that, when withdrawing wholesale Purchase Tax registrations, a greater number of registrations in many cases have to be given to manufacturers who supply the wholesalers, might it not increase the cost of administration by increasing the number of registrations with manufacturers?

36.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer from how many wholesalers Purchase Tax registration was withdrawn during 1953.

Separate figures are not available for wholesalers as distinct from other registered traders. I gave my hon. Friend the total figure on 1st April.

But it is not the total figure that I want. In view of the fact that complaints about the withdrawal of registrations have come from wholesalers, are we to take it that all the registrations which have been withdrawn have been those of wholesalers? If not, will my hon. Friend look into the matter again and tell us how many have come from wholesalers and how many from manufacturers?

As I explained to my hon. Friend in reply to his earlier Question, some traders are registered both as manufacturers and as wholesalers. Consequently, it is impossible to give separate figures for the two categories.

In view of the fact that in some cases manufacturers, while acting also as wholesalers, have been allowed to retain their manufacturing licence, while their wholesale registration has been withdrawn, surely it is possible to obtain those figures if my hon. Friend is willing to do so.

Can the Financial Secretary explain why he is so difficult about helping his hon. Friend?

I have given my hon. Friend, during the last few weeks, a considerable amount of information, but he has an insatiable appetite for statistics, which I admire, though it gives me a great deal of trouble.

Museums And Galleries (Standing Commission's Report)

29.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been called to the serious situation of the British Museum as disclosed in the current Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries; and whether he will make a statement.

30.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been called to the Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries about the present condition of the British Museum; and what action it is proposed to take.

31.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if his attention has been drawn to the Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and galleries, and in particular to the Commissioners' references to the British Museum; and what action he proposes to take to remedy the unsatisfactory state of affairs revealed in this Report.

33.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will make a statement on the Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Art Galleries.

37.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether in view of the Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, he will increase the current grant to museums and art galleries; and, in particular, take immediate steps to remedy the deficiencies of staff and accommodation at the British Museum.

38.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has studied the Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, describing the position of the British Museum as disquieting; and what measures he is prepared to take to remedy this situation.

The Fourth Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries spans the years 1949 to 1953. Despite the difficulties of the time, the Report recognises that considerable progress was made by the national institutions during this period and it is unfortunate that some comments on this Report, while emphasising the needs of the museums, have tended to overlook its many references to important developments.

In the period covered by the Report, net expenditure on the Votes of the national institutions, excluding the cost of buildings and equipment borne on the Votes of other Departments, rose from £1,256,000 in 1949–50 to £1,468,000 in 1953–54. Moreover, while the size of the Civil Service generally was reduced, staff in these institutions rose from 2,255 in 1952–53 to 2,348 in 1953–54. Steady progress was made both with the restoration of severe war damage, and in providing new accommodation. Notable developments were the opening of Ham House, Apsley House and Osterley Park, as off-shoots of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the reopening of the London Museum, which had been closed since 1939.

The Estimates for this year show a further increase of some 12 per cent., to £1,644,000, in the net provision; and staff will go up by some 4 per cent., from 2,348 to 2,451. I am glad to be able to announce a further increase in the grants-in-aid for purchase of works of art. These were increased by 25 per cent. last year and will be increased by a further 20 per cent. all round, making an increase of 50 per cent. since 1952–53, in addition to special grants made from time to time. For example, a grant of £82,000 was made to the British Museum in 1951–52 towards the purchase of the Holkham Hall Library and the Helming-ham Hall "Orosius" Manuscript. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] I am sorry, but this is the answer to six Questions.

More recently, the National Gallery has been enabled to buy Gainsborough's "The Morning Walk."

On a point of order. As the answer is so long, would it not have been better if the right hon. Gentleman had answered these Questions separately, and saved time?

But for that point of order, we might have come to the end of the answer.

I am glad to say that I agree with you, Mr. Speaker.

With regard to the British Museum, including the Natural History Museum, the Trustees sent to my right hon. Friend in October last a comprehensive appraisal of the museum's needs. Regard was had to this when the provision for the current financial year was settled, although I should not claim that we were able to provide for all that the Trustees would have wished to see done. Nevertheless, the net provision this year, at £740,000, shows an increase of 11 per cent. over 1953–54 and of 48 per cent. over 1949–50; staff numbers will be increased by 42. Building work will begin on the reconstruction of the Greek and Roman Rooms at the British Museum and the East Wing Herbarium at the Natural History Museum.

Though a good deal has been done, we realise that there is a great deal more which it would be desirable to do, and we shall continue to deal with the claims of our national museums and galleries as sympathetically as the general economic situation allows.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House is extremely grateful to him for his comprehensive answer? Is he further aware that it is not a mere matter of convenience but of national economy in the broad sense that there should be a place in this country where everyone can conveniently get access to any printed material? Will he not also agree that it is a danger to the national economy if, owing to circumstances not due to this Government but due to the inevitable dislocation of war, a cataloguing system, which would fill that need, should fall into dislocation?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is very important work to be done here, and it is for that reason, despite the needs for national economy, that we have made increased provision in the current estimates, a subject to which I have already referred.

The right hon. Gentleman has read out a lot of figures which are very difficult to follow, but does it not remain true that the Commission stated that unless more funds are made available our national institutions will not be able to maintain the standard of prestige we expect of them in these days, when cultural and artistic appreciation is increasing?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a field in which very large sums of money can be usefully spent, but it is a case of holding the balance between the needs of national economy and providing some necessary increase, as we are doing this year.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that public opinion has received this Report with a great deal less complacency than he and his Department? Would he not agree that it was abject folly on -the part of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cut the grants to the museums in 1952, as we on this side of the House said at the time?

I hope the hon. Gentleman is not going to try to make a party point about the findings of the Commission which covers a period 57 per cent. of which was during the late Administration's term of office. So far as the hon. Gentleman's first point is concerned, this Report was written before those concerned could have seen the Estimates for the current year.

While it is quite natural for the Financial Secretary to need a lot of time to defend himself on this issue, is it not quite clear from the Report that great damage was done by the foolish and futile efforts of the Government to save a small sum of money two years ago?

Neither the Report nor the facts justify any of the right hon. Gentleman's adjectives.

Are the Government going ahead with the British Museum Bill, which was introduced nearly three years ago, or are they waiting for the British Museum (Amendment) Bill?

Is the Minister aware that the British Museum was founded on the results of a national lottery, and as Gibraltar has a licence under the Crown for a lottery, could we not have one in this country to supply some of these needs?

That is almost the only question on this subject which is not on the Order Paper.

Agriculture

Spring Vegetables (Supply)

42.

asked the Minister of Agriculture the prospects in respect of the supply of vegetables in the late spring.

Vegetables in season from the middle of April until the end of May consist mainly of spring cabbage and winter cauliflower, with swedes and carrots available until about the middle of May. There are ample supplies in prospect of root vegetables. As a result of the severe frost at the end of January and the beginning of February, supplies of spring cabbage and especially winter cauliflower have been substantially below normal for the time of year. If, however, the weather remains favourable, cutting is expected to increase from now onwards, and approach the normal level during May.

Do I understand that no provision is being made outside this country to import vegetables? In view of their great scarcity and the way prices are going up, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the housewife that there is nothing to worry about?

I think the hon. Gentleman has it all wrong. There is no quota restriction on the import of vegetables from our usual overseas sources of supply. Up to now I understand that, generally, the retail prices of vegetables have been lower this year than they were last year.

Humane Rabbit Trap

43.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he has now completed the trials with the new Imbra humane rabbit trap; what steps he is taking for its introduction; and when they will become effective.

With regard to the first part of the Question, I would refer to the reply given on 18th February last to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus). The production and sale of this trap is a matter for the manufacturers. It is already on sale.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when this trap will be made on such a scale that we shall be able to abolish the other? There is great public anxiety in view of the cruelty involved, and unless this production can be expanded it will take many years before the gin trap can be abolished.

As I have told the House previously, we must be sure that we have the right answer. In this trapping year all the trapping done by the county committees will be by this trap and I shall have a report by the middle of May, showing exactly what the experience has been. It has been a big investigation but, by the middle of May, I ought to be able to inform the House of the results of this trapping season.

In searching for the most humane way of killing rabbits, will the Minister bear in mind that the long net, methodically used, may be a good solution of this problem?

Is the new Imbra trap a complicated and expensive apparatus, or relatively simple?

It is certainly more expensive than the present gin trap. Its price is 10s. 6d. compared with the gin, which ranges between 3s. 6d. and 7s. 6d. It is no less complicated in its mechanism, but I understand that it takes a long time to set.

Boars (Breeding Licences)

49.

asked the Minister of Agriculture the procedure for obtaining a breeding licence for a non-pedigree boar; and what method of appeal is available to the applicant under his regulations.

An applicant for a breeding licence for a boar, whether pedigree or non-pedigree, is required to submit the animal for inspection by one of my officers. If a licence is refused, the applicant may appeal within 14 days and request a second inspection by a referee appointed from a panel of nominees of approved pig breeding societies and the National Farmers' Union. Under the Improvement of Livestock (Licensing of Bulls) Act, 1931, and the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1944, the referee's decision is final.

My right hon. Friend will surely agree that his livestock officers are not allowed to approve non-pedigree boars for breeding. In view of that, is it not unfair to put the referee in the position of juror, judge and appeal court?

The referee is at liberty to do exactly what he likes. In fact, the licensing of boars started on 1st April, 1946, and during the eight years the system has been in operation it has worked very satisfactorily.

If, in a breeding licence for a non-pedigree boar, the word was spelt "bore" would it make any difference?

51.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether his Regulations allow a licence to use Landrace boars for breeding purposes to be granted to boars which are not pure bred.

As I said in reply to my hon. Friend, the Member for Maidstone (Sir A. Bossom), on 31st March, it is my policy to licence only those boars that are pure-bred, whatever their breed. This is because the purpose of licensing is to ensure that boars used for breeding will breed true to type, and this cannot be achieved by the use of cross-bred boars.

As my right hon. Friend has decided to deny to these impure animals the natural right to breed and live, does he not think it would save the farmer from loss and the Ministry from expense if, instead of sending inspectors and then referees to the farms, the position of these unfortunate animals could be made clear from the beginning?

No, Sir, the referee is there to make a decision entirely irrespective of the first inspection which takes place and I am bound, as well as the owner of the boar, by that decision. If he thinks fit, the referee can licence a non-pedigree boar.

How can my right hon. Friend reconcile his statement that his policy is to licence only pedigree boars when he gives the routine for licensing cross-breds?

Machinery Service, Dorset

53.

asked the Minister of Agriculture for what reason Dorset was the only county in the south of England, with the exception of the Isle of Wight, to maintain an agricultural executive machinery committee; what profit or loss has been made by the Dorset committee during the last two years; and what were the figures in each year.

The County Machinery Service in Dorset is being maintained to deal with reclamation and similar work involving the use of specialised machinery. Experience has shown that private contractors are not at present available to deal with all the work of this kind that has be done.

During the past two years, operations in the county resulted in losses of £5,597 and £1,518 respectively, representing the recovery of 83.3 per cent., and 94.9 per cent., of total expenditure.

In view of these losses, does not my right hon. Friend think it would be wiser to wind up the Dorset committee as he has done other committees in the West Country? May I ask, further, how much greater would have been the loss had it not been for work done at Crichel Down?

No, Sir. The Dorset committee is doing good work. The loss in the financial year, 1953–54, is not expected to exceed £2,000, and it is hoped that the service will be self-supporting in 1954–55.

Distant-Water Fish (Landings And Prices)

44.

asked the Minister of Agriculture the average price per cwt. and the landings of distant-water fish taken from 1st January, 1954, to the latest convenient date; and the comparable figure for 1951.

Landings of distant-water fish from 1st January to 31st March this year amounted to 1,695,000 cwt. at an average price of 50s. 1d. per cwt. The comparable figures for 1951 are 2,251,000 cwt. at an average price of 48s. 4d. per cwt.

Secret Agreements (Publication)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now publish all secret agreements with other countries made by Her Majesty's Government during the Second World War.

No, Sir; unless I believe it to be in the public interest—

On occasion the two may be identical—No, Sir; unless I believe it to be in the public interest, and the consent of the other parties concerned has, where necessary, been obtained in each case.

The Prime Minister having referred to the public interest as the over-riding consideration, is he willing to give an assurance that the future publication of these agreements, subject to the conditions he has mentioned, will be motivated solely by consideration for public interest and not for the purpose of promoting sterile squabbles of a purely party political nature?

Quebec Agreement (Hydrogen Bomb)

46.

asked the Prime Minister whether the consultation arrangements provided by the Quebec Agreement covered the future use of the hydrogen bomb.

The Quebec Agreement of 1943 dealt with the atomic bomb. The United States Government's decision to proceed with work on a hydrogen bomb was not taken until 1950. When the agreement was made we did not, of course, know whether the hydrogen bomb would ever become a reality.

Had the Quebec Agreement remained in force until the hydrogen bomb became a practical reality with the explosion of November, 1952, I should have regarded its provisions as applying to the hydrogen bomb also.

Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to statements issued both from the White House and by Mr. Truman to the effect that the Quebec Agreement did not cover the hydrogen bomb? In these circumstances, would it not be fairer to withdraw his charge that the Labour Government gambled with Britain's vital interests in this matter in view of the fact that there was never an agreement for consultation on the hydrogen bomb? May I further ask whether, in view of the importance he attaches to the hydrogen bomb, the right hon. Gentleman himself has made any approach to the American Government to negotiate an agreement, or for consultation?

I think that all those serious, complicated, questions had better be set out separately on the Order Paper.

As in the debate last Monday we were concerned not so much with the atom bomb but with the hydrogen bomb tests and the future use of the hydrogen bomb, was it really necessary for the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the Quebec Agreement, which referred exclusively—as he has just said—to the atom bomb, to introduce extraneous matters?

I certainly thought over my action before I took it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I certainly considered that the hydrogen bomb was, in a certain sense, the child and successor of the atom bomb.

Since the right hon. Gentleman gave serious thought to the subject before he made his statement last Monday, can he tell the House whether he has given any thought to what he did since?

I endeavour to allow my thoughts to play in retrospect, as well as in prospect, over all my actions.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Alford Drainage And Lincolnshire River Boards

47 and 50.

asked the Minister of Agriculture (1) how many members on the Alford Drainage Board and the Lincolnshire River Board represent the coastline between Mablethorpe and Ingamells, inclusively;

(2) how many members of the Lincolnshire River Board represent territorially the coastline between Skegness and Wainfleet, inclusively.

The lengths of coastline referred to lie within the County of Lindsey. One is within the Alford and the other within the Skegness Internal Drainage District. Six members of the river board are appointed by the Lindsey County Council and one of the members appointed by me was nominated by the Alford and one by the Skegness Internal Drainage Board.

These drainage boards are elected bodies. The greater part of the membership of the Alford board comes from the area draining to the length of coastline referred to in the first Question.

Control Of Dogs Orders (Prosecutions)

52.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what prosecutions have been instituted under the Control of Dogs Order, 1920, and the Control of Dogs (Amendment) Order, 1920, in respect of dogs found in highways or places of public resort without collars bearing the name and address of the owner since the orders came into force; and what were the results of such prosecutions.

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the two Orders of 1930. These Orders are enforced by local authorities, and I have no information as to the number of prosecutions instituted by them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that of the half million dogs in this country fewer than 10 per cent. have their names and addresses on their collars? Can he say how he proposes to deal with the matter?

I do not think it is the duty of the Government to supervise local authorities in the enforcement of these provisions.