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Local Government

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 13 April 1954

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County Rates (Increase)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he has studied particulars which have been sent him concerning the persistent rise in county rates; and if he will in the national interest introduce legislation, which will enable Her Majesty's Government to fix a limit to the expenditure of local authorities.

Yes, Sir, for the particulars in question are mostly drawn from the Ministry's own publications. The answer to the second part of the Question is in the negative.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the average county rate has about doubled in the last 20 years? As the increase is a burden upon industry and does harm to our export trade, will he take action on the lines suggested in the Question?

This is a very difficult problem. The suggested legislation would be rather too crude an instrument for this very complex problem.

Building Byelaws (Height Of Rooms)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government to what extent uniformity has been obtained as regards the building byelaws of local authorities; and what special circumstances there were in the cases of three out of 126 local authorities in Lancashire which caused him to agree to a greater height than seven feet six inches for first floor rooms.

Uniformity has been attained to a very large extent and I am grateful to local authorities for their co-operation. The special circumstances about which my hon. Friend inquires are smoke-laden humid atmosphere, low sunshine record, and, in two cases, high density. The variation is in respect of ground floor, not first floor rooms.

While everyone will agree that as much uniformity as possible is desirable, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that every possible consideration is given in his Department to appeals for a greater height made on the grounds of health by certain local authorities?

Yes, Sir. As my hon. Friend suggests, we have tried to get the maximum of uniformity without disregarding the long tradition of occasional non-uniformity.

Pennine Way


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when the Pennine Way which it was hoped to complete in July, 1952, will be ready; and how many miles of new rights of way have still to be established under the National Parks Act.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 16th March to the hon. Members for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). No more new rights of way have been created since then.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he promised that this would be completed by the autumn of last year and state what is holding up completion now?

There are certain legal complications which have to be negotiated, and, since this will last for a long time, it is very important to get the most attractive and most generally agreed route. I cannot honestly say that I have any practical experience of the route, for I am rather beyond the age at which I might be expected to walk such distances, but my Parliamentary Secretary keeps walking backwards and forwards across it and he tells me that there are still some arguments about certain parts of it. It is important to get the route generally agreed.

Housing, Yorkshire


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the number of houses completed in Yorkshire during 1953; and how this figure compares with that for 1951 and 1952.

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to Appendix B to the Housing Return.

Nationalised Industries (Committee's Report)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement of policy in regard to the acceptance or otherwise of the recommendations of the Select Committee upon Nationalised Industries, the last Report of the Committee having been published nine months ago.

When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House opened a debate on this subject on 8th February he indicated the preliminary views of Her Majesty's Government and said that any observations made during the debate would be carefully considered. There was a useful exchange of views which the Government are examining. A further statement will be made as soon as possible.

Atomic Energy (Quebec Agreement)

46 and 47.

asked the Prime Minister (1) the date on which the United Kingdom obtained freedom to develop atomic power for industrial and economic purposes without first seeking the permission of the President of the United States of America under the Quebec Agreement;

(2) the date on which his secret agreement with President Roosevelt was ratified in this country; and the date on which it ceased to have effect.

The Agreement which I signed with President Roosevelt at Quebec in 1943 covered a most secret matter of vital importance to our war effort. In these circumstances it could not be revealed to Parliament and thus the question of ratification did not arise here or in the United States. It was, however, a solemn, formal, and official agreement. It was annulled on 7th of January, 1948, when the new agreement came into effect.

The clause regarding industrial development to which the hon. Member refers applied to any industrial advantage which the United States had derived from their researches, plant and vast expenditure on the manufacture of the atom bomb. It in no way prevented us from promoting industrial atomic research and production from our own resources. We have, in fact, been carrying on atomic research and development ever since 1945, which was applicable both to industrial and military purposes.

Am I to understand that the Agreement was so secret that the right hon. Gentleman could not trust even the War Cabinet with the secret? Is it a fact that the right hon. Gentleman was the only person in this country who knew that he had made these promises?

No, Sir. My noble Friend Lord Waverley, as Lord President of the Council, had the management of the matter in his hands. In addition, the Foreign Secretary knew. As to the exact degree of appreciation possessed by others, I cannot answer.

Is the Prime Minister saying that he selected his personal confidants who were very near to him but that the War Cabinet did not know of the tremendous promises which he had made on behalf of the country? What about the Deputy-Prime Minister?

My telegram was addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and the War Cabinet, but it may well be that, owing to the great respect with which the words "Tube Alloys" were treated, it slipped out at some point or other.

I hope the Prime Minister, by referring to that telegram, is not seeking to utilise the propaganda material which has been used in at least two Conservative newspapers. He will have had his opportunity to make inquiries, as I have had mine. May I ask, therefore, whether he is not aware, as I am confirmed by the Cabinet Office, that the War Cabinet was not informed about the agreement of 1943? In all the circumstances, would it not be well for him to admit it and, if there is a case to argue about it, let it be argued on another occasion? Surely he is aware from the Cabinet records that the War Cabinet was not informed, as I have had confirmed from the Cabinet Office?

I cannot go further than I have gone. The telegram which I sent was addressed to the War Cabinet, but it may well be that some change was made, not as a result of a great decision on policy, but from the point of view of keeping these matters as secret as possible.

May I ask the Prime Minister, was it not a fact that it was thought best to keep knowledge of this matter in the hands of a very few people and that the War Cabinet was informed that there had been talks and agreements with the United States Government on this matter, but that they were not, as a matter of fact, informed of the details at all, or what the agreement was, but simply that some agreement had been come to, and the matter rested there?

Yes, Sir, I do not think I disagree with that. It was no attempt at keeping unnatural secrecy. On the other hand, obviously these things were talked of by as few responsible people as possible and at this particular stage it may well be it was not discussed in the Cabinet. I may, however, say that the Cabinet records are not necessarily conclusive in their completeness because very often when a thing like this was reached in conversation one said, "Do not put that down", and the matter did not figure in the printed record—

The right hon. Gentleman should not shake his head, because he knows it is true.

The Prime Minister has asserted that something is true; what is he asserting?

I am asking the Prime Minister a question, and he may as well answer and wait until I have finished. Is the Prime Minister asserting that he did explain all this to the War Cabinet? Is he asserting that he did seek authority and then gave directions that no record was to be preserved? I have made my own inquiries, that is the official answer, but I ask the Prime Minister, has he made inquiries from the Cabinet Office as to whether there was Cabinet discussion and confirmation and, if there was not —and that is the answer of the Cabinet Office on this—why does the Prime Minister not tell the House of Commons?

All that the Cabinet records show is that the words "Tube Alloys" were cut out in red ink and that was done by an official—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am not suggesting that it was any improper action.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman think, on reflection, that it would have been better not to have referred to the matter, but to have left it where it was?

I should not have referred to it unless, finding ourselves in a very difficult position when we returned to office, we were concerned to prove that we were in no way to blame.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we also found ourselves in some difficulty when we came into office in 1945.

Certainly, I fully admit the many difficulties the right hon. Member had to face, but I am not going to be accused of being responsible for the way in which things stood when we resumed office.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will issue a White Paper giving the relevant correspondence concerning the ending of the secret agreement he reached with President Roosevelt.

My right hon. Friend made Her Majesty's Government's position clear on this point in his speech during the debate on 5th April. He said that if it were desired that this later agreement should be published, he was perfectly prepared to consult the other Governments concerned to see if it could be done. I have nothing to add to what he said. It is clearly for those immediately concerned to express their views.

Will the Prime Minister say, firstly, when the document itself ceased to be secret and was available for the public, and, secondly, will he say that, in view of the obvious public interest in this country in the part revelations which have been made, he will now go the whole hog and let the British public know what correspondence passed?


asked the Prime Minister the present arrangements made between the United Kingdom and the United States of America regarding the development of atomic energy by Great Britain; and what agreement has been come to concerning the use of such scientific knowledge by either country for military purposes.

Present arrangements between the United States and the United Kingdom regarding the civil use of atomic energy cover an exchange of information over a limited field. No agreement exists regarding the exchange of information on the design or production of atomic weapons. We are developing our atomic programme, both civil and military, as we see fit and as the national interest requires.

Hydrogen Bomb


asked the Prime Minister if he will give the House all the information he receives officially from the United States Government concerning the explosive power, radius and effect both of the last bomb detonated in the Pacific and of any similar weapon that Government proposes to test in the near future.

The United States Government do their best, within the limits laid down by the United States legislation, to give us as their close allies such useful information on these subjects as is possible under their law. They might well be discouraged if they knew that it was immediately to be conveyed to the Soviet Government by public declaration in Parliament.

If there is very serious information given to the Prime Minister at some time should we not have knowledge of that? Using all his discretion, cannot the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that from time to time he will tell us of any developments in this dangerous weapon?

No, Sir. I cannot promise to tell all the information that is given to me in confidence by another country.


asked the Prime Minister to what extent Her Majesty's Government intends to emulate or transcend the United States Government in the development of atomic and hydrogenic explosive weapons; and where it is proposed that further tests of these weapons should be made.

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) on 23rd March, 1954.

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that that reply was quite inadequate? Will he not at least refer to the last part of my Question in regard to the place in the world within our orbit where these experiments may take place under our auspices?

I am afraid I must abide by my answer, which was not given without much consideration.

Has the attention of the Prime Minister been called to the report in "The Times" that the United States are proposing to drop a bomb at the end of the month of 10 times the theoretical power of any bomb so far dropped? What steps has the Prime Minister taken to implement the Motion agreed to by this House last week so that we can get these very important matters dealt with quickly?

Town And Country Planning Bills (Scotland)


asked the Prime Minister if he will cause the Town and Country Planning Bill and the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill, two almost identical Measures of great length and complexity, to be withdrawn and re-presented after the Easter Recess in a form which will enable a combined Bill to go before one Standing Committee instead of two, thus avoiding repetitive debates on the same principles, saving the time of many hon. Members and officials, and much public expense.

No, Sir. The complexity of the matters with which these Measures deal and the differences in the laws of the two countries make it impracticable to have a single Measure applying to both.

May I ask my right hon. Friend if in future every endeavour will be made to save time and expense by adding a few additional Clauses to United Kingdom legislation to cover the special circumstances of Scottish law on land tenure?

I am advised that to attempt to apply the English Measure to Scotland in this sense would greatly add to its complexity and that it would involve a Scottish application Clause of indigestible length and complication.

Basutoland, Bechuanaland And Swaziland


asked the Prime Minister in view of the recent official announcement by Dr. Malan of the intentions of his Government to secure the transference of our South African Protectorates, whether he will make it clear to the South African Government that Her Majesty's Government will not agree to such a transferance without the consent of the peoples in those Protectorates.

I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions in reply to this Question.

Do I understand from that answer that we shall be entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman questions on the statement?

At the end of Questions

I will now, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, answer Question No. 51.

There can be no question of Her Majesty's Government agreeing at the present time to the transfer of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland to the Union of South Africa. We are pledged, since the South Africa Act of 1909, not to transfer these Territories until their inhabitants have been consulted and until the United Kingdom Parliament has had an opportunity of expressing its views. General Hertzog himself, in 1925, said that his party was not prepared to incorporate in the Union any Territory unless its inhabitants wished it.

It is the interest, as it is also the desire, of this country and of South Africa, that the friendship which has developed so strongly between us over the years should remain unbreakable. I therefore sincerely hope that Dr. Malan and his Government, with whom we have hitherto happily co-operated on so many problems we share in common, will not needlessly press an issue on which we could not fall in with their views without failing in our trust.

My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations is also making a statement on this subject in another place.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this reply will give profound satisfaction both to the people of this country and to the indigenous inhabitants of these three Protectorates? Is he further aware that the crucial reference is to the word "consult"? Can we take it now that "consultation" in this context means also consent?

If the Prime Minister did not hear me, may I repeat that the first part of my supplementary question asked him whether he did not appreciate that his answer would give profound satisfaction?

As the right hon. Gentleman did not get the second part of my question, may I ask him again whether we are to take it that the word "consult" in the context in which it is used can now be taken to be synonymous with "consent"?

I should greatly hesitate to try to give my opinion now on a matter full of legal subtleties and with the deep constitutional importance attaching to it.

May I ask the Prime Minister to accept on behalf of us on these benches that we welcome very much the statement he has made? We, too, join in the hope that the Government of the Union of South Africa, having regard to the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, will not pursue' this matter any further.

I am not sure that I can give any assurance about their not pursuing it. We have very good and friendly relations with them. Now that they have brought the matter forward like this and have seen what our attitude is bound to be—not the attitude of this Government only but a long-established attitude—I think it is very likely that things will be settled in a more friendly manner than would appear on the surface at this moment.

While agreeing with the Prime Minister that it is desirable that this matter should be settled by South Africa's dropping the question, I would ask the Prime Minister to consider, if they do pursue it, having an early debate in the House soon after the Recess so that the opinion of the whole House on this matter can be made clear to the Union of South Africa?

We must always consider whether a debate will be helpful at a particular moment or not. After all, there is such a wide measure of agreement that I do not think there is much occasion to express our views by debate.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the second part of his answer is neither as clear nor as satisfactory as the first part? Would he agree that it is essential that the people of these Territories should be absolutely certain that this Government will not permit them to fall under the influence of Dr. Malan? Will he therefore say something now that will free us from any fear that when he talks about consulting the people of the Territories he may mean consulting in the same way as when Seretse Khama was banished? Would he not agree that the people wanted Seretse Khama back, and that therefore we do not want ambiguity?

Strong views however agreeably expressed, are by no means a qualification for being a constitutional authority.

I wish to give notice that, in view of the entirely unsatisfactory nature of the Prime Minister's answer, I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Is not this a situation where the least said at the present time the better?