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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 15 April 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

National Finance

Poland (British Claims)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to obtain repayment from Poland of British claims against that country.

Negotiations are in progress.

Hungarian Debt (Interest Repayment)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is including repayment of interest due on the Hungarian bonded debt in the present discussions on trade with Hungary.

Would my hon. Friend bear in mind, in these negotiations, that it is always possible that one Department may feel determined to make a success of their part in them without realising fully the needs of other Departments? Can he assure us that the Treasury is keeping well in mind the fact that the Hungarians, as far back as 1949, were offering to pay certain sums, and make quite sure that today's figures will be no less than those of 1949?

All Departments are equally keen to make sure that their own interests are watched, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the question of pay- ments in respect of the debt from Hungary is very much in our minds.

Does that mean that claims for compensation for the industries which Hungary has nationalised will be dealt with as in the case of similar negotiations with Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia?

Can my hon. Friend say how these negotiations are going on and when they are likely to be concluded?

No, I cannot say. They were started only fairly recently and they are rather complicated.

Production (New Capital Investment)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in future numbers of the Economic Survey, he will relate more clearly the effect on production of new capital investment.

It is not possible to isolate the effects of investment from the other factors which influence the course of production. In many cases, moreover, these do not fully mature for a considerable period.

Is my hon. Friend aware that on one page are given statistics of new investment and, two pages further on, the increase in production, yet adverse comments on private enterprise were made in the debate although it increased its output far more than the nationalised industries?

I think that the adverse comments made in the recent debate about private enterprise were fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Economic Survey (Statistics)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will furnish an estimate of the degree of accuracy, plus or minus, of the estimated statistics in the Economic Survey.

No, Sir; an adequate interpretation of the statistics in the Economic Survey is available in the Survey itself, in the Balance of Payments White Paper, and in the National Income Blue Book.

As many of these statistics are only reasoned guesses, might they not be produced on the usual scientific basis, giving some indication of the possible degree of error, because they are treated by ordinary people as representative of the precise truth?

I feel that the degree of error would be only a reasoned guess. It is fairly common knowledge to those who read the document that the estimates are the best we can give, and that the degree of statistical reliability must vary from figure to figure.

National Debt Increase (State Assets)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what new assets we have secured as a result of an increase in the National Debt of £531,000,000 during the year ended 31st March, 1954.

For details of the change in the estimated assets of the State over the year ended 31st March, 1954, I must ask my hon. Friend to await publication of the Finance Accounts of the United Kingdom for 1953–54.

There will be very substantial increases in assets in respect of the Local Loans Fund and the National Coal Board. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend mentioned in his Budget speech, in considering the assumption of liability by the Treasury for British Iron and Steel 3½ per cent. Guaranteed Stock one must also remember the securities of the nationalised companies which have been transferred to the Holding and Realisation Agency.

Roumanian And Hungarian Assets (Distribution)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he will be able to make a statement about the distribution of Roumanian and Hungarian assets held by the Custodian of Enemy Property.

A draft of the Treasury direction is nearly ready. I hope to make it available to Parliament before the direction comes into effect, and, at the same time, to give any explanations that may be needed.

It was as far back as July, 1952, that we were told that this direction was almost ready? Can my hon. Friend give us any reason for this long delay, which has caused a lot of inconvenience to many people?

Yes, I have already expressed regret on more than one occasion for the delay that has taken place, which, I agree, has been very long. It is now merely a question of finishing the legal drafting of the direction, which is a complicated task, but it is going on and it should not take long to finish.

Can my hon. Friend say when it will be finished, within a few weeks or months? It took years last time.

Budget Proposals (Pamphlet)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will resume the practice of the former Government and publish an illustrated pamphlet entitled, "The Budget and Your Pocket," explaining, in the simplest terms, what the Budget proposals will mean to the British taxpayer.

The usual Budget poster will be prepared as soon as the Finance Bill is enacted, and will be widely distributed.

Is the Minister aware that in the days of the Labour Government the Chancellor of the Exchequer used to publish an interesting booklet called "The Budget and your Pocket" which enabled ordinary people, like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who cannot understand the Economic Survey, to appreciate some facts about their national life? Also, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would help the old-age pensioners to understand the position?

I think the explanation of my right hon. Friend's financial proposals, which he and others have given from this Box, are adequate to explain the admirable nature of those proposals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are some extraordinary people who would also like elucidation, such as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)?

Is it not a fact that the Budgets of the Labour Government needed much more explaining than the Budgets of my right hon. Friend?

Highland Games (Tax Revenue)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what receipts he had in 1953 for entertainment tax on Highland games.

In view of the fact that it is a very small amount, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a number of the smaller Highland communities are unable to carry on their Highland games this year, and will he weight this comparatively small sum against the damage to the Highland cultural interests and also to the tourist industry?

My right hon. Friend has had representations on this subject. It is the fact that under the existing law some of these games are able to qualify for exemption, but some are not. However, the representations of my noble Friend will be borne in mind.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the mock auctioneers made greater profits at the Highland games last year than in any other part of Britain?


Pests Officers, Dorset


asked the Minister of Agriculture what salaries and travelling expenses were paid to pests officers in the county of Dorset; what salaries were paid to the operatives; and what has been the income of this department during the years 1952 and 1953.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
(Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

Salaries and travelling expenses paid to pests officers in Dorset amounted to £3,215 in 1952–53 and £2,866 in 1953–54. In these years wages paid to operatives amounted to £3,067 and £2,528. The income of the pests department in the two years was £6,738 and about £6,000.

In the interests of economy and to make the pests department pay, will my hon. Friend consider reducing the number of pests officers to one? To have three pests officers to supervise eight rodent officers, or rat catchers, seems very much like overloading.

My hon. Friend is not, perhaps, quite clear on the functions of the pests officers. They have an advisory function of advising farmers in Dorset generally about the destruction of pests, as well as overseeing the operatives. It may be that there are a large number of pests in Dorset, but, in any event, this number of officers is needed.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary give an estimate of the value of the services rendered by these people and the advantages obtained from what they do?

They are responsible for the destruction of pests generally—rabbits, mice, and so on—on farms and they perform a valuable function in preventing the destruction of a great deal of food.

Are all pests officers rat catchers, or all rat catchers pests officers?

The pests officers are, so to speak, in the advisory strata. It is the operatives who are actually involved in the catching.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the efficiency of the pests officers in Dorset has in no way been in question?

Myxomatosis (Statements)


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will issue a weekly statement on the spread of myxomatosis among rabbits from now until the autumn.

My right hon. Friend will certainly report from time to time on the spread of the disease into new areas. Weekly statements do not seem justified at present. If later the rate of spread of the disease increases, I shall be willing to consider it.

Can my hon. Friend tell us the areas in which the disease has appeared to date and give an assurance that the Advisory Committee, which has produced such a good report, will continue to watch very closely the extent and character of the outbreaks and, in due course, make another public report, so that everybody may know the position?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Myxomatosis Committee is a standing committee. It will continue to watch the development of the disease and my right hon. Friend and I will be able to give the House reports on how it spreads in the course of the next month or two. There are now 17 established centres of infection, five of which have been confirmed in the past month.

So that we may all understand this interesting discourse, will the Parliamentary Secretary say what myxomatosis is?

Myxomatosis is a very unpleasant disease caught by rabbits, and recently broke out in this country. It came over here last autumn.

Home Department

Neglected Children (Training Of Mothers)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many establishments are now in operation to which mothers charged with neglecting their children may be sent for training.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many homes now exist for the reception and training of mothers found guilty of neglecting their children; and which organisations have provided or are operating these homes.

Mothers placed on probation for child neglect may be required by the court to reside either at Mayflower, the Salvation Army's training home at Plymouth, or at Spofforth Hall, the Elizabeth Fry Memorial Trust Home, near Harrogate. A part of Birmingham prison is used for training women who have been sentenced for neglect of, or cruelty to, children.

Has the hon. Gentleman's Department any intention of increasing, or helping to increase, the number of these homes? There must be a large number of women charged with neglect who do not receive this training; some are sent to prison. Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that ordinary prison sentences are useless in these cases and that this training is by far the best treatment?

The Mayflower has seldom been fully used since it opened in January, 1948. It has been full during the last few months, however, and if it continues so the position will, of course, be watched.

Will my hon. Friend convey to the Salvation Army his appreciation of its valuable pioneer work in this important field and assure it of his support in whatever extension of this work may prove to be desirable?

If the Mayflower Home is not fully used, is it because of the reluctance of magistrates to suggest that women should go there for training, to ignorance, or to what other reason?

I could not answer that; it is a matter of speculation. It may be that this Question and answer will bring the matter to the attention of the courts.

Young Girls (Indecent Assaults)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the remarks of the Lord Chief Justice in the case of Regina v. King; and whether he will introduce legislation to cover this oversight in the present law.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to increase the maximum sentence for indecent assault on young girls.

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. and learned Friend gave on 1st April to a Question by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton).

Does my hon. Friend not realise the great abhorrence that is felt when a man can, apparently, receive only a two-years' sentence of imprisonment for an indecent assault on a girl aged two when he has had five previous convictions for a similar offence? Will my hon. Friend not see whether anything can be done to speed up legislation in this matter, as suggested by the Lord Chief Justice?

The Lord Chief Justice was dealing with an exceptional case. My right hon. and learned Friend has no reason to think that the maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment is not generally adequate. When the accused is convicted on more than one charge, consecutive sentences may be imposed.

Will the Undersecretary bear in mind that not everybody agrees with the Lord Chief Justice in this matter and that the whole question was fully investigated when the Criminal Justice Bill, which later became an Act, was being considered, and that the great preponderance of opinion is all the other way?

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, a far greater body of opinion would say, I think, that a man who has been guilty of five offences and then inflicts an irreparable offence on a child aged two deserves more than two years' imprisonment? The law ought to bear in mind these exceptional cases. Although we are all interested in the minority view that protects an isolated individual, far more hon. Members of the House are interested in the general view that protects the whole community and particularly young children.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that he would bear the observations of the Lord Chief Justice in mind. All he said was that he could not at present say when it would be possible to introduce legislation.

Steeplechasing (Cruelty)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the abhorrence with which the present form of Steeplechasing is regarded; and if he will introduce legislation to facilitate the prosecution for cruelty to animals of promoters of this type of sport.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will institute an inquiry into the risks of injury and death involved for horses in organised steeplechase races.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will cause an investigation to be made into the conditions under which steeplechases are run, with a view to establishing whether any element of cruelty is involved to the horses engaged.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no responsibility in this matter, regulation of the conditions under which Steeplechasing takes place being a matter for the authorities responsible for the conduct of the sport. While he greatly regrets the death of four horses at Aintree on 27th March, he does not think that a committee appointed by the Government would serve any useful purpose.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I asked about amending legislation? Can he tell the House whether he has considered a prosecution in connection with the Grand National under existing legislation and, if so, with what result? To satisfy himself about the rising indignation felt at this carnage and slaughter of horses, will he visit a cinema and see the current newsreel of the Grand National and hear for himself the horror with which the audience view the showing of this year's Grand National?

My right hon. and learned Friend is inviting the National Hunt Committee to discuss the matter with him on Wednesday, 28th April, and as my hon. Friend has already given notice that he will raise it on the Adjournment on 29th April, I think these matters might better be discussed then.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of feeling about this matter, not only among the general public, but among racegoers, who feel that this particular racecourse is not fair to courageous horses and that, apart from improvements to the course itself, there is a great deal to be said for limiting this race to horses of proved quality which have gained at least first or second place in steeplechases of recognised standing?

If it is proved that cruelty arises from this kind of race, is it not the responsibility of the Home Secretary to take action to ensure that it is stopped?

As I said, my right hon. and learned Friend is to discuss this matter with the National Hunt Committee. I think that, pending that discussion, it would not be right to express an opinion on the matter.

Is my hon. Friend aware that people who have practical experience of the training and riding of steeplechase horses, in the Grand National and elsewhere, do not agree that there is any cruelty involved, that they have absolute confidence in the decisions and wisdom of the National Hunt Committee, that conditions are already laid down such as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Brigadier Medlicott) has suggested, which limit the entry of horses to those which have won races of a certain character? If steeplechasing were abolished, a great many of the horses now used for this purpose would become meat.

Affiliation Orders (Us Service Men)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many American Service men will initially be affected by the bringing into operation of the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, in respect of payments for the maintenance of illegitimate children.

Would the Minister make it as widely known as possible, certainly in round figures, that the numbers affected are not likely to be more than hundreds—not the 60,000 or 70,000 which was so widely and wrongly reported some weeks ago?

This matter has been debated, but if my hon. and gallant Friend wants particular figures I invite him to ask another Question.

Portuguese Criminal (Entry Into Uk)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why no objection was raised by the officials of his Department to the entry of the Portuguese gunman Justine de Almeida to this country.

No adverse information about this man was available when he was granted leave to land in this country.

Can the hon. Gentleman say why such a case can arise in respect of a man who was very well known, whose criminal record was very lengthy and who had a vicious nature? Is there no possibility at all of having a record of that kind available when such a man arrives?

The police have now been informed by the United States police that Almeida had a long record of convictions for armed robbery in that country. He was finally deported from the United States to Portugal in December, 1953. I understand, further, that he had no criminal record in Portugal and we had no criminal record of him here.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we spend £4 million a year on the Secret Service? In view of its incapacity to deal with cases of this kind, will he suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this would be a good case for an economy cut?


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department the nature of the inquiries being made in respect to the passport of Justine de Almeida, a Portuguese citizen, who recently arrived in this country.

De Almeida produced a passport to the British passport control officer in Lisbon and to the immigration officer, and this was accepted by both officers as valid. Inquiries were subsequently made of the Portuguese authorities, who have confirmed that the passport was in order.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the St. Pancras coroner, who looked into this matter thoroughly, was not satisfied that the visa was in order, in that he suggested that inquiries should be made of the British authorities in Lisbon? Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that the passport is wholly in order so far as the British authorities are concerned?

A visa and a passport are, of course, two separate things. The hon. Member put down a Question about the passport, which I have answered. If he wishes to put a question about the visa, he should put it on the Order Paper.

Homeless Ex-Prisoners (Care)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the number of discharged prisoners who are homeless, he will introduce legislation to set up a Government-controlled body to be responsible for looking after discharged prisoners in cases of necessity.

My right hon. and learned Friend is ready to consider, in consultation with the after-care organisations and the National Assistance Board, any specific proposals for improving the existing arrangements for the care of homeless ex-prisoners. On present information, however, he would not consider it either necessary or desirable to set up another body for this purpose.

While appreciating that answer, may I ask whether the Minister will go into the matter further, especially in view of the case I submitted to him on 2nd March, to which I have not yet had a reply? Is he aware that recently, in Birmingham, a man walked the streets for 36 hours, after being released from prison, before he was able to obtain a bed? It really is most tragic when so many men who have been in prison—I know it is a fact in Birmingham—are homeless and have no opportunity of being set on the road to rehabilitation. Is it not a very serious matter?

I think that the particular case the hon. Member has in mind is one where a man, after interviewing the local aid society, had a bed booked for him at a Salvation Army hostel, but did not turn up to claim it. Instead, he seems to have gone, on that night and on the following night, to other Salvation Army hostels where there was no room. The responsibility for this muddle is not clear. It will be looked into further, but I think it will be clear that a single case does not afford ground in itself for reviewing the whole system, still less for setting up a new service.

Every week there are several cases, especially in Birmingham, of homeless ex-prisoners. I have given one example, and there are more, of ex-prisoners who have actually committed crimes in order to get somewhere to sleep. It is a tragic situation. The Salvation Army is doing its best, but it does not support the view which the Minister expressed.

If the hon. Member has evidence that there are numerous such cases, I hope he will submit it to my right hon. and learned Friend, or myself.

Metropolitan Police (Palace Of Westminister Guides)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what regulations he has made to allow police officers off-duty to offer themselves as guides in the Palace of Westminster.

I appreciate the reply, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is contrary to police regulations to offer a policeman alternative duty? Is it not possible, through the hon. Gentleman or his Department, to see that hon. Members have opportunities of getting police guides, as has been the practice through the ages? Is it not the case that an hon. Member is more comfortable and happy if his constituents can be shown round the Palace of Westminster by someone he knows and can trust?

Police regulations do not prohibit police officers off duty acting as guides, although they would require the consent of the Commissioner of Police before accepting a reward for doing so. The rule that police officers may act as guides only when off duty has been made by the Serjeant at Arms. It was not made at the instance of my right hon. and learned Friend, nor the Commissioner of Police. Hitherto, plain clothes police officers on duty in the Palace of Westminster have conducted hon. Members' parties, when their duties permitted, as a courtesy to hon. Members and without official authority.

Could not the same facilities be granted, as, so far as I can see, an encroachment has been made on the amenities of hon. Members which have been in existence for many years? I intend to fight for the right which hon. Members opposite have had for centuries in this House.

If there has been any encroachment it is not the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that a Select Committee is at present looking into this matter? Will he take no action in these cases until that Committee has reported, as, in the body of the report, there will possibly be reflections about this sort of thing which will cause changes of opinion about it.

David John Ware (Death In Broadmoor)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what date David John Ware died in Broadmoor; the circumstances of his death; the inquest verdict; and whether Ware made, in anticipation of death, any reference to the late Walter Graham Rowland or the late Olive Balchin.

Ware committed suicide on 1st April. The verdict returned at the inquest was that the deceased killed himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed and that the cause of death was strangulation through hanging by the neck.

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

In view of the verdict at the inquest, which was, apparently, not one of insanity, and in view of the man's confession, which showed quite clearly that he knew what he was doing and that it was wrong, can the hon. Gentleman explain why Ware ever came to be an inmate of a criminal lunatic asylum at all? Secondly, now that we have come to the grim end of this grim story, and all the people most nearly concerned with it are now dead, does not the hon. Gentleman think that his right hon. and learned Friend might reconsider his decision not to hold an inquiry in this case, to see what miscarriage of justice occurred?

Those questions are entirely different from that on the Order Paper. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have them answered, he must put them down.

Sir Roger Casement (Remains)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department his reasons for refusing permission for the remains of the late Sir Roger Casement to be transferred to Ireland.

Successive Governments have considered this matter and have found no reason for departing from the invariable practice of refusing permission for the removal of the remains of executed prisoners. My right hon. and learned Friend sees no reason to take any other view.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Foreign Secretary said recently in the House that it was not the policy of Her Majesty's Government to carry hatred beyond the grave; and does that not apply to Ireland? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the late Sir Roger Casement is recognised as a great Irish patriot and that the Irish rebellion, is, from the Irish point of view, a great episode in the successful struggle for independence? Does he not think it is time that he should apply the same principle to Ireland that the Foreign Secretary enunciated with regard to Germany?

It is not thought by this Government, nor has it been thought by previous Governments, that the removal of Casement's remains would help to improve relations between this country and the Irish Republic. Indeed, by reawakening the memory of old differences, leading to demonstrations, and so on, it might do the reverse.

Would the hon. Gentleman care to explain how he reconciles that attitude with the quite opposite attitude, in parallel circumstances, of the Foreign Secretary in the other case? I believe it is quite impossible to reconcile the two.

As Eire has now separated herself from the Commonwealth how can it lead to any rising against British rule, which is what the hon. Gentleman suggests might happen if the remains of this Irish patriot were taken back to his native land for interment there? It is a simple human question.

I do not think I suggested that it would lead to a rising or anything of that kind. I said that it would reawaken memories of old differences.

Local Authorities (Civil Defence Arrangements)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many communications he has received from local authorities expressing concern at the inadequacy of existing Civil Defence arrangements in the light of recent developments; and what answers he has given.

The only communication of this kind which my right hon. and learned Friend has so far received is the one from Coventry, and the hon. Member has, no doubt, read the terms of the reply which has been made public.

I do not wish to condone the attitude of Coventry Council in banning all forms of Civil Defence, but it remains true that a great many local authorities are very concerned about what changes should be made in Civil Defence preparations in the light of the hydrogen bomb, and are very anxious to have authoritative guidance from the Home Office on this matter at an early date. Could the hon. Gentleman say what his Department is doing about it?

As my right hon. and learned Friend has said, and as I have said, the position is being reviewed in the light of the explosion of the hydrogen bomb, and my right hon. and learned Friend has promised to make a statement to the House.

Is the Under-Secretary aware that many local authorities are dissatisfied with the present method of organisation? Perhaps he will recall that the Medway area would like to be its own authority. Because it is not it has not that enthusiasm for recruiting Civil Defence volunteers which local responsibilty would encourage.

I hope that when my right hon. and learned Friend has made a statement any such feeling will disappear.

Employment (South Wales Ports)


asked the Minister of Labour how many dock employees are unemployed at each of the principal South Wales Bristol Channel ports, at the latest available date; and what steps are being taken to deal with this problem.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service
(Mr. Harold Watkinson)

In the week ended 3rd April, the average daily numbers of registered dock workers surplus to requirements were:

Port Talbot16
These men remain in the employment of the National Dock Labour Board and they are offered work in neighbouring ports as opportunities occur.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether he will bear in mind that at present, owing to shortage of work, particularly in Cardiff and Barry, some men have to be taken long distances each day which is a very expensive procedure? Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind the danger that those men who were formerly employed in coal exporting will be absorbed into other industry and, if required again, may not become readily available?

Yes, Sir. The Government are well aware of the difficulty of some of these South Wales ports. I think my hon. Friend has recently questioned my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade about this, and I cannot go beyond the answer which my right hon. Friend gave.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the transfer arrangement between port and port is working very satisfactorily in South Wales, and that such a condition of transfer did not exist before the war?


asked the Minister of Labour how many people in the borough of Barry unemployed at the latest date for which figures are available have been totally unemployed for a period of six months; and what steps he is taking to assist them in finding employment.

On 15th March, 59 men and 50 women registered as unemployed at the Barry Employment Exchange had been without work for over six months. These include a number who suffer from disability or who are otherwise handicapped, but my hon. Friend may be assured that every effort will continue to be made to place them in any employment for which they may be suited.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be general satisfaction in the area that these figures are so very low?

Is it not a fact that the figures in Barry are so low because a number of engineering industries have been introduced into the district as a result of the work of the Labour Government?

The fact remains that the figures are low, and that is the matter which interests me.

Maternity Hospital, Leicester (Standard)


asked the Minister of Health if he is satisfied that the building used as the Westcotes Maternity Hospital, Leicester, is up to the required standard and generally satisfactory for its purposes.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health
(Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)

No, Sir, but my right hon. Friend is informed that the hospital authorities are at present carrying out certain improvements with a view to raising the standard.

Will the hon. Lady make an inquiry into the position herself, as there is considerable dissatisfaction with the accommodation for patients?

I think that position is accepted in view of the fact that it was originally intended to close the Westcotes Maternity Hospital and to provide alternative accommodation at the John Faire Hospital, Leicester, which is now empty. That scheme will not be completed until next year, and it has been decided, in view of the necessity for these beds, that this particular unit should be upgraded and improvements made. These are under way.


School Television Service


asked the Minister of Education what interval will elapse before a school television service, on an experimental basis, becomes possible.

I am told that a large-scale experiment would involve lengthy preparations, considerable expenditure and heavy demands on studio space and equipment; it is not likely to be practicable, therefore, except in the form of the preliminary trials of a permanent school television service. I understand that at present the B.B.C. cannot say how soon such a service could be started, in the event of its being decided that one should be made available to the schools.

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that the representatives of the British Broadcasting Corporation informed his right hon. Friend, when they met her, that owing to this shortage of studio space and trained television staff, they would have to concentrate all their efforts in the next year or two on meeting the challenge of commercial television, and that that is the real reason why this very desirable educational television service is being postponed?

I am not sure whether that question is a supplementary to the Question on the Order Paper, but it is not possible for me to give a specific answer to it.

While not wishing to minimise the importance of this programme, may I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that there are many parts of the country, particularly East Anglia, where television is not yet receivable at all, and that it would be unsatisfactory for this service to be introduced until it may be done on a nation-wide basis?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it has been widely reported in the Press that the B.B.C. representatives made this point in their discussions with the Minister? Will he confirm or deny it?

I have said that I will not confirm it or deny it. I am not aware of any Press comment on this matter.

School Building Programme, Warwickshire


asked the Minister of Education if she is aware of the increase in the birth rate of Warwickshire which has taken place earlier there than elsewhere; and whether, in view of this and other exceptional circumstances, she is satisfied that the 1955–56 building programme will cope with the anticipated shortage of school places in this county.

The local education authority have submitted full details in support of their proposals for the 1955–56 school building programme and these are now being studied. The programme will have to be related to my right hon. Friend's policy as set out in Circular 245 and to what is practicable locally, but within these limits it will be fixed to provide additional school places where they are required.

Is the Minister aware that the Warwickshire County Council is deeply concerned about the future position? I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's concluding words, but is he aware that the Minister conceded the argument of the Coventry county borough about the extraordinary increase in the birth rate? Will she, when considering the Warwickshire claim, pay attention to that fact?

I must not be taken as admitting the universal validity of the argument that whatever happens anywhere must happen anywhere else, but my right hon. Friend is extremely conscious of the high rate of increase of population in the area with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned. She is well aware of the migration out of Birmingham in that direction and the immigration especially of miners and engineers; and in the fixing of the new programme all that will be, and is being at this moment, taken fully into consideration.

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being allowed to answer Questions at the Dispatch Box?

I should have been allowed to answer more if there had been more Questions.

Basutoland, Bechuanaland And Swaziland


asked the Undersecretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what were the terms of the 1909 agreement, upon which the United Kingdom Government agreed to consider the possibility of a transfer of the High Commission Territories of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland to the Union of South Africa.

The history of this matter is fully set out in the White Paper (Cmd. 8707) published in December, 1952, to which I would invite the hon. Member's attention.

The South Africa Act, which was prepared by a National Convention in South Africa in consultation with the United Kingdom Government, contained provision for the possible eventual transfer of the administration of the Territories to the Union, subject to terms and conditions embodied in the Schedule to the Act. During the passage of the Act through the United Kingdom Parliament, pledges were given by the Government of the day that Parliament should have the fullest opportunity of discussing and, if it wished, disapproving any proposed transfer of these Territories and, also that the wishes of the inhabitants would be ascertained and considered before any transfer took place.

While thanking the hon. and learned Gentleman for that answer, and bearing in mind the satisfactory reply given by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, may I ask whether the House can take it that Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland will not be transferred to the Union of South Africa without the consent of the Africans who dwell in those territories?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered a Question on this matter and I cannot go beyond or depart from the terms of that answer.

Transport Levy (Yield)

56 and 57.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (1) the yield from the transport levy during the final quarter of the financial year 1953–54;

(2) on how many A and B licences, C licences and Government and municipally-owned vehicles the transport levy was charged during the final quarter of the financial year 1953–54.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
(Mr. Hugh Molson)

From the beginning of January to the end of February this year the yield from the transport levy was £3,425,000. It is estimated that a further £50,000 has been collected during March, making a total for the quarter of £3,475,000. Figures are not available of the total number of vehicles or the number hi any class on which levy has been charged.

Would not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that the figures he has given show the gross unfairness of this levy in view of the fact that up to now only 10 per cent, of the vehicles have been sold and that about 1¼ million vehicles are being taxed to meet a loss on 3,000 vehicles?

No, Sir. It was the intention of the Act to start to raise the levy from the beginning of this year.

Yes, but is it not a fact that £3 million has been paid on these vehicles simply to cover the loss on a mere 3,000 vehicles?

I do not understand what is unfair about beginning the annual levy as soon as the Act comes into operation. It is quite likely that all this money will be required.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary not agree that the sale of vehicles has been such a complete failure—only 3,000 out of 30,000 having been sold in 12 months—that the levy should be abandoned?

No, Sir, certainly not. I do not agree that sales have been unsuccessful. In any case, when he refers to the number of vehicles which have been sold the hon. Gentleman should remember that we are still in the early stages of the sales.

Will the hon. Gentleman look at the original list issued in the form of a White Paper and the speeches of the Minister on the subject to see how far they have departed from the original estimate of the yield of this levy?

I am willing to look at any estimate, but we are entirely satisfied with die way in which the levy is going at the present time.

Defensive Exercises, Bahamas (Cuban Representations)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what representations he has received from the Government of Cuba about the bacteriological tests to be held near the Bahamas; and the nature of his reply.

On 31st March, Her Majesty's Ambassador in Havana was handed a Note expressing the Cuban Government's concern at the Press announcement of Her Majesty's Government's proposal to institute defensive exercises against bacteriological and biological warfare in the Bahaman area. The Cuban Government asked for any available information regarding the exercises to enable them to take proper precautions.

On my right hon. Friend's instructions, Her Majesty's Ambassador replied on 12th April that in no conceivable circumstances could the tests have any effect in Cuba, whatever meteorological conditions obtain; and that the Cuban Government might rest assured that no precautions need be taken by them.

Will the Minister explain why defensive activities of this kind are necessary in the Bahaman waters? Is he aware that there appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde, and several other newspapers, a statement that these are exercises in which we propose to experiment with methods of warfare involving the spreading of typhus and plague and other infectious diseases among the civil population of the world? Does not the Minister think that this is a particularly execrable form of international warfare in the relinquishment of which this country might give a lead at this time?

That has nothing to do with the Question on the Paper, which asked what representations were made by Cuba and what reply was sent to those representations. I have given an answer to that Question but, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, all these exercises are for purely defensive purposes.

In view of the anxiety of the Cuban Government, and, no doubt, other Governments, can the Under-Secretary assure us that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, as part of the plans which we are to lay before the Disarmament Commission of United Nations, to put forward proposals for the total abolition of bacteriological warfare, and controls that will make that abolition effective?

That is a very much wider question than the one on the Paper. So far as representations from other Governments are concerned, we have only had representations from the Dominican Government about the exercise.

Surely the hon. Gentleman can tell us that this is a part of the settled policy of the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the settled policy of the Government is to get an all-round, balanced and properly supervised system of disarmament. Bacteriological weapons will, of course, figure in that all-round system.

Does the hon. Gentleman leave out of account altogether the fact that for many years there has been a Geneva Convention, to which this country is a party, against this type of warfare, and that there has been, so far as anyone knows, no breach of that Convention—at least by anybody who ever ratified it—in 20 or 30 years? In view of that, would the Undersecretary say what purposes are to be served by these experiments, bearing in mind that, while everybody accepts his statement that they are purely defensive, that statement is made by every country in the world about every type of armament it employs?

I do not leave out of account the factors to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, but we cannot leave out of account either the possibility that some country, some aggressor, might resort—

The hon. Gentleman says, "Only America." In that case, he is a complete and utter dupe of Communist propaganda regarding the war in Korea.

I have said that we cannot leave out of account the possibility that some aggressor might start this hideous form of warfare first. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the Government to see that the necessary defensive precautions and exercises are taken to guard against such an eventuality.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that I am not the dupe of anybody's propaganda? My reference to the United States of America was only a reference to the plain, admitted fact that of all the countries in the world the United States of America is one of the only two which, so far, have not ratified that Geneva Convention?

That is a very different thing from the hon. Gentleman's previous interruption, which suggested that the United States had used this form of weapon.

The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that I said no such thing. I have never said, either this morning or at any other time, anywhere, that anybody had ever used it—the United States or anybody else. What I said was that if the United States used it that would not be a breach of international law as far as they were concerned since they are not parties to the Geneva Convention.

On a point of order. Is it in order for the Under-Secretary to impute most improper motives to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)? Should not he be asked to withdraw?

I heard no improper motive imputed. If there is a definite charge, I will consider it. I have generally found that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is quite capable of standing up for himself.

May I say, Sir, that I never regard it as unparliamentary to accuse another Member of being the dupe of somebody's propaganda. Indeed, I think that the Joint Under-Secretary is himself in that position.

Is it not a fact that the Russian Government announced in 1939 that they were very well prepared to take part in bacteriological warfare if anybody should start it? Since it is known that a large number of Governments have made preparations, it is perhaps right at the present stage to make defensive counter-preparations, but that does not relieve the Government of the imperative duty of proposing the total abolition of this form of warfare, with effective guarantees which will be observed.

I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is for that reason that the Government are seeking to get an all-round disarmament system which would, of course, include these weapons.

The Question starts with a query as to what representations have been received, and that has been answered. I do not think we should expand that into a discussion on bacteriological warfare.

On a point of order. The Minister referred to further diplomatic representations which appear to have been made by another Government. Arising out of that, may I ask what was the nature of the representations?

If the hon. Gentleman will put a Question to that effect on the Order Paper I will answer it.

European Defence Community (British And Usa Commitments)

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will now inform the House of the precise proposals made by Her Majesty's Government to the European Defence Community Governments for further military commitments by this country on the continent of Europe; and what further commitments have been proposed or undertaken by the United States of America.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is yet in a position to make a statement regarding a British contribution to a European army.

May I first ask a question on a point of order? These Questions were on the Paper on Tuesday. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, with your leave, Mr. Speaker, put a Private Notice Question which was answered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I have no doubt that it was generally convenient for the House that the statement about the additional British contribution to E.D.C. should be made yesterday, but I think that a good many hon. Members had previously understood that if Questions on the same subject were already on the Paper that normally ruled out a Private Notice Question. Would you be good enough to give your Ruling and to indicate whether, in future, there will be some departure in certain cases?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter. When the Leader of the Opposition yesterday submitted his Private Notice Question I had observed the Question for today standing in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). My first reaction was that that would rule out the possibility of the Leader of the Opposition asking his Question, but on reading the hon. Member's Question I found that its contents, though similar, were not identical with the Question put down by the Leader of the Opposition. The hon. Member is asking for precise proposals made by Her Majesty's Government for further military commitments by this country, and it struck me that the Leader of the Opposition was asking about something different from proposals. He was asking for the terms of an Agreement which it was common knowledge had been made.

As the hon. Member will understand, a proposal is like an offer which, if accepted, becomes a contract. It struck me that the subject matter of the Question by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, dealing, as it did, with a concluded Agreement, was different in substance from the Question of the hon. Member which deals with proposals. On this ground I allowed the Leader of the Opposition to ask his Question, but the rule remains unchanged.

May I say that I am not in any sense complaining, Sir. I think that the whole House will be most obliged to you for what you have said and for clarifying the position. I am sure it will be of use on future occasions.

The answer to the two Questions is as follows: I refer the hon. Members to my right hon. Friend's statement in the House yesterday, and to the reply which he gave to a supplementary question by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

Now that we have had an opportunity to consider the statement made yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether we may assume that in the event of the United States Government not undertaking to make a similar and comparable commitment to leave on the Continent of Europe American forces of comparable size and for the same length of time, in association with E.D.C., Her Majesty's Government will be free to reconsider the commitment which they have undertaken?

My right hon. Friend made it plain yesterday that the commitment was related to N.A.T.O. The undertaking which is given is to place at the disposal of and under the command of an E.D.C. corps a British armoured division so long as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe considers that to be a necessary arrangement. That is, of course, without regard to any outside commitments or further commitments which the United States Government may undertake.

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that the United Nations organisation is in existence and is liable to die unless it is used? Will he refrain from entering into commitments either in Europe or with the United States unless it is done through the United Nations, which was established for that purpose?

The commitment, as I have already informed the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), is under N.A.T.O., and, as I think the whole House accepts, there is nothing inconsistent or incompatible whatsoever between N.A.T.O. and any of the defence arrangements to which Her Majesty's Government belong or which they support in Europe or anywhere else, or the United Nations organisation.

It is past 12 o'clock, and I am forbidden by the Order of the House to take Questions after 12 o'clock.

On a point of order. Do I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you have now given a Ruling which seems to depart from previous practice in this House, which is that once a Question has been taken before the time of conclusion of Questions it is in order for supplementary questions to be continued after that hour? That appears to me to have been the common practice in the House in the past.

We are working under a special Order passed by the House yesterday with regard to today's proceedings, which says that no Questions shall be taken after 12 o'clock. Although I allow a little latitude for a few seconds this way or that, I feel bound, after the Order of the House, not to continue further and thus deduct from the time which is open to Private Members for their Adjournment Motion debates.