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Commons Chamber

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 15 April 1954

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House Of Commons

Thursday, 15th April, 1954

The House met at Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Birkenhead Corporation Bill (Queen's Consent, On Behalf Of The Crown, Signified)

Read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers To Questions

National Finance

Poland (British Claims)

1.

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)

2.

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)

3.

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)

4.

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)

5.

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)

6.

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)

7.

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)

8.

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?

Agriculture

Pests Officers, Dorset

10.

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)

11.

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)

14.

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.

25.

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)

15.

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.

18.

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)

17.

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.

26.

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.

28.

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)

24.

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)

27.

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?

33.

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)

29.

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)

31.

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)

34.

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)

35.

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)

36.

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)

38.

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:

Newport372
Cardiff151
Barry129
Port Talbot16
Swansea87
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?

39.

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)

42.

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.

Education

School Television Service

48.

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

49.

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

53.

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)

60.

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:

61.

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.

59.

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.

Kent Water Bill

Might I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a matter which affects Members of Parliament representing consituencies in the county of Kent?

The Kent County Council promoted a Water Bill which was supported by all Members of Parliament. It then went to another place with a recommendation from this House that there should be a Joint Committee to consider it. The purpose of having a Joint Committee was to save the ratepayers of Kent the extra cost otherwise involved.

I now gather that in another place the decision to have a Joint Committee has been renounced and that there are to be two Committees. It would be possible for me or any other hon. Member to object when the Bill returns from another place, but in doing that we should defer the Third Reading of the Bill, which we desire. I should like to know whether it is possible for elected Members of this House to safeguard the money of the ratepayers in the county of Kent.

All I can say to that is that the setting up of a Joint Committee of both Houses requires the consent of both Houses separately. In the circumstances, as the other place has not agreed to a Joint Committee, there is nothing more I can say. The same result might be the case if a Joint Committee were proposed in the other place and rejected in this House. The proposal requires the free concurrence of both Houses before such a Committee can be set up.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Heath.]

Dental Technicians

12.4 p.m.

On 6th April I addressed a Question to the Minister of Labour and another Question to the Minister of Health in connection with the dearth of dental technicians in the country.

The National Joint Council for the craft of dental technicians decided in 1947 to alter the description after a royal battle about what they should be called. Therefore, I must correct my hon. Friend in that respect, and I must call these people by the description which they themselves have chosen, which is that of dental technicians.

They do the same work as the dental mechanics used to do. Do they get more pay because they have a better-sounding title?

I am afraid not. Their duties relating to prosthetic treatment are much wider than in the days when they were called dental mechanics.

My Question to the Minister of Labour asked for the number of dental technicians who were then employed compared with three years previously. The Minister of Labour said that he regretted that the information was not available. I can well understand that reply. I understand that the Minister of Labour has, in terms of statistics, the whole of dentistry grouped together, and, therefore, in his records dental prosthetics, dental nurses, dental receptionists and even dentists and dental surgeons themselves are part and parcel of a whole collection of dentistry, and he cannot segregate the branches.

On the same day I put a Question to the Minister of Health asking him whether he was aware of the loss to the craft of dental technicians of numbers of highly-skilled dental technicians and what steps he proposed to ensure that that trend would not destroy the possibility of having a comprehensive dental service. I received the following reply:
"I am not aware of any loss of dental technicians likely to lead to a serious difficulty in the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 31.]
I quarrel with that reply. It conveys that the Minister does not know very much about what is happening to the craft of dental technicians, or it is a very impolite way of telling me that he could not care less, or it may be that he neither knows nor cares about dental technicians. I hope that the matter which I am now raising, the employment of dental technicians in the National Health Service, will inspire him and the Parliamentary Secretary to give it the fullest possible consideration.

The problem is that large numbers of highly skilled dental technicians are now unemployed. Figures given to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) on 16th April, 1953, indicate the situation since the cut in the dental services about two and a half years ago. In reply to my hon. Friend, the Minister of Health gave figures relating to applications for dental treatment during the last three months of 1951 and the last three months of 1952. They related to applications to the Dental Estimates Board by which applications have to be approved before treatment is given and appliances are provided. The reply showed that there were 42,000 fewer applications in the three months 1952 in compared with the corresponding period in 1951. This indicated that there were 160,000 fewer applications for dental prosthetic services in 1952 than in 1951.

Although it is difficult to got official confirmation, I believe that this decline was intensified in 1953. These figures are such as to cause distinct alarm, because, in effect, they show that dental health is now at a discount. They also reveal a serious situation of unemployment in the highly-skilled branch of dentistry—the craft of dental technicians.

In the absence of official figures—and that is why I began by referring to my Question to the Minister of Labour—I have to fall back on facts and figures collected in my own investigations and those of my trade union, and I may say that my trade union represents the whole of the dental technicians throughout the country, with the single exception of London. The following are some of the figures to which I would call the attention of the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary.

In Preston, in 1949, 39 dentists were employed—and I am now speaking of dentistry as it was as a result of the 1921 Act, and including both dentists and dental surgeons, as well as others. In addition to the 39 dentists in Preston, there were four laboratories for the profession of making dentures, and that meant, collectively, a total of 36 dental technicians. There were also 27 apprentices. In 1953, there were 27 dentists, one laboratory to the profession, 14 dental technicians and 10 apprentices, which represented a loss of nearly 60 per cent, to the craft. This is the direct result of cheeseparing within the National Health Service in respect of the dental services.

We now have highly-skilled men out of work, and I call the attention of the Minister to this fact, because seemingly, in his reply to my Question, he was completely ignorant of it. I could go through most of the towns and cities of this country and show that there has been a loss of technicians. In Bournemouth, the loss is 50 per cent.; in Coventry, 15 out of 29 technicians have lost their jobs; in Dundee and in Hull, the loss is also 50 per cent. The situation is the same in Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham and in Scotland.

I should like to call the hon. Lady's attention to an extract from the "Yorkshire Evening News," of Tuesday, 11th November, 1953, in which it was stated that Mr. Frank Drew, secretary of the Leeds branch of the British Dental Association, said:
"In some cases, dental workshop staffs have been reduced by half and even three-quarters. It is said that some of these highly-skilled people were compelled to find work in other walks of life. In some cases, they have become milk roundsmen, in others fish and chip shop proprietors and things of that description."
These occupations are honourable in themselves, but when a person has been trained in the craft of dental technician, I think there is some obligation on the health service of this country, and particularly the dental health service, to provide him with something in the nature of permanency in his employment. Mr. Drew also said:
"I know of travellers in dental supplies having to give up their work because of the serious falling-off in business. Large numbers are having to develop side-lines."
The situation in the whole of dentistry is in line with that concerning the dental technicians, although I am speaking in the main for the dental technicians. The effect of the cuts in the dental service have not only been to create unemployment amongst dental technicians, but, in so far as they do that, they also create a loss of work to dentists and to all those ancillaries in the dental profession, and consequently affect the dental health of the country.

I do not know whether the hon. Lady has primed herself with any of the history of this craft, but we have to remember that this is a highly-skilled job, and if one wants proof of that statement, one has only to refer to the examinations which take place in respect of the craft of a dental technician. Very intense practical and theoretical study is imposed on a dental technician for a period of five years before he can be looked upon as being even in the initial stage of craftsmanship. Though I am not a dental technician myself and have never been directly concerned with the profession, I remember, as a trade union organiser actively associated with the National Joint Council for the craft of dental technicians, having had something to do with the rather elaborate and very effective schemes which were capable of real development from the point of view of dealing scientifically with dental health.

At that time, we had effective schemes of registration and apprenticeship. I want to tell the hon. Lady that it takes at least five years to teach a dental technician the rudiments of his job in terms of both practical and theoretical knowledge, and even then I have never known a technician with only five, six or even 10 years' experience who was very proficient in certain types of work, particularly ceramics.

I ask the hon. Lady whether it is wise, right or good for this country that we should have men who have been trained to do this highly scientific and technical job facing the dangers of unemployment, with a consequent loss to the dental health of the country? These people are necessary to dentistry. There are dental surgeons and dentists who came in under the 1921 Act and who know something about appliance treatment, but very few of them have the necessary time to do the highly-skilled work in the workshop or laboratory. It takes a lot of time to teach them extraction, X-ray work, remedial treatment, orthodontics and things of that kind, and they just cannot devote long hours to this painstaking work, which is wholly dependent on the dental technicians of the country.

These are some of the conclusions which have already been arrived at by fully representative bodies in this country which have made a study of the problem, and I should like to call attention to the fact that an Inter-Departmental Committee, presided over by Lord Teviot, pointed out the absolute necessity of dental technicians developing their craft to a very highly organised degree in order to be of the fullest service to the dental profession. That Committee not only deplored the insufficiency of dental technicians in 1946 or 1947, but, as a result of their excellent report, the craft itself advanced both technologically and in other ways. Tremendous advances have been made in the efficiency of the craft, but all this is now going to waste.

Today it would be very unwise on the part of any parents to apprentice a boy of 16 as a dental technician, because they would be placing him in a blind alley job. After five years' apprenticeship, in most cases, they are taken into the Army, and when they return from the Army they are dependent on their craftsmanship pay at the lowest rate. They find that they have six months' work, which the Army guarantees, and then they are pushed out into the street. The result is that many dental technicians serving in the Army never come back to the job for which they were trained, and that the highly-skilled, scientific experience they acquired in five years' training, as well as the money spent on it at places like the City and Guilds of London Institute, is wasted. While they are protected to a certain extent, very few of the technicians who are now employed in the laboratories, or by dentists and dental surgeons, are just out of their time. Only the older craftsmen are now employed. Those who have finished their time and have done their Army service find that there is no prospect in the craft. They are being dispensed with as fast as possible and are having to find other jobs.

What will happen if this country develops a dental health service, as it should? We shall be back in the position which existed in 1945 or 1946, when there was a shortage not only of dentists and dental surgeons but a grievous shortage of dental technicians. We must remember that many dentists are going out of the job as well.

I wonder whether the Minister cares. That is suggested by his reply to me a week last Tuesday. That is why I have raised this matter on the Adjournment. I called his attention to the very serious situation in respect of dental technicians and asked him to examine the position and see what could be done. It is wrong that modern society should say to highly-skilled craftsmen, "You are redundant these days, when scientific dental health is progressing at such an increased tempo."

The debates on the 1921 Dental Act proved that dental prosthetics are an integral part of dental surgery. So accomplished were these dental technicians in 1921 and so able to do their job that they were recognised in the 1921 Act to the extent that for 12 months they were allowed to enter the profession of dentistry. The dental health of the community demanded it.

When we have a dental health service in this country, we shall need both dentists and craft technicians who can do the work required, yet we are losing the skill of the people on the prosthetic side. I hope that the Minister will look urgently into the matter and protect this craft, which must not be wasted. We must take care that the people who have spent time and money studying the prosthetic side of dentistry do not do it in vain and that their highly-skilled services are not lost to the community.

12.25 p.m.

I have a long and abiding interest in this subject. It arises largely from the conception of the dental health service that I have, and the vital part it can play in the ordinary life of the individual. I have long wanted to see a thoroughly satisfactory dental health service.

Even at the time of the passing of the National Health Service Bill, I made it my business to bring to the attention of the House the part that these dental technicians, these prosthetists, might be able to play in a nationally-organised dental service. I was fortified at that time by the Minority Report of a Royal Commission which advocated that the dental service should be treated on all fours with the medical service.

In exactly the same way as a doctor examines a man with a damaged limb, finds out what the patient requires and then sends the patient to a skilled man, the dentist would treat the patient who required artificial dentures. The dentist ought to be able to pass the patient out as fit to receive the dentures. Then the prosthetists, about whose highly skilled craftsmanship we have just been hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom), would be able to deal with the case, just as the fitter does with an artificial limb.

I look at the matter from that point of view because I understand the position with regard to the supply of dentures. Dentists were very scarce in 1946 and were quite unable to cope with a comprehensive dental service. Looking at that dismal failure, I came to the conclusion that it would be necessary to bring certain other skilled people to our aid so that the dentists we had might be able to do the more important work.

The job of the dentist, in the view of many of us, is to prevent the decay of the natural teeth and to preserve them for as long as possible. Owing to the shortage of numbers to which I have referred, the dentists could only contemplate dealing with the enormous job of a dental service if they were helped out by ancillary workers, who could get on with part of the job. I had the pleasure the other day, in company with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, of seeing this job being done by hygienists now in training. They should be able to deal with some part of the work relating to children. I hope that scheme will prosper, and I wish it the greatest success.

I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the point made by my hon. Friend that here among the prosthetists is another type of ancillaries to the dentists. The skill of this body of men ought not to be lost, and we ought not to be in danger of losing them from the profession owing to lack of work.

There is every case for a very careful inquiry into this matter. We realise that when the charges were introduced, there was a temporary setback to the service and that the number of people applying for artificial teeth diminished considerably. We realise that, but we do not suppose that such a state of affairs will persist. Indeed, we are very hopeful that people will again come to realise how important it is to rid their mouths of poisonous teeth and to substitute for them clean, hygienic artificial teeth which are nearly as good as those with which nature provides us.

It is the declared policy of the Labour Party that when returned to power they will remit the charges so that the people who need these things will be able once again to receive the complete service which they require. It would be a tragedy if we allowed ourselves to drift into the same situation with regard to these dental technicians as we have in regard to the dental surgeons themselves.

I know how interested the Parliamentary Secretary is in this matter, and how anxious she is to help. I can sympathise with her in so far as the dentists are a very highly organised body of people who are naturally loth to lose any of the privileges which they enjoy. But I ask the Minister to consider the needs of the nation rather than the needs of this small section of the community, and to consider carefully whether it would not be possible to set up an independent inquiry into the whole question in order to see if it is possible to utilise these dental technicians within the framework of a comprehensive dental service and thus enable us to make up for the lack of qualfied dental surgeons Which threatens the efficiency of the service.

12.34 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) for raising this matter, because there are several points which require clarifying. While I appreciate the very real and sincere concern felt by the hon. Gentleman for members of this profession, I simply cannot accept many of the allegations he has made. I hope to be able to answer some of them in the course of the debate.

The Ministry of Health recognises the importance of the work of the dental technician, which is to fabricate or to repair dentures or other dental requirements to the prescription or design of the dentist. It is a skilled and important job, and we fully recognise that it is essential to the National Health Service, although in only a very few cases are we in direct relationship with that service.

The majority of dentists come under the general practitioners' service and the dental technician is not directly employed or paid by us. Payment, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is made direct to the dentist who employs or contracts with these men to do this technical work. Therefore, the Ministry as such has no control over the entry of people into this profession, nor, in the main, any control over their direct employment. I think that should be made clear, because from what the hon. Gentleman has said it might easily go out from this House that these people are directly contracted or employed by us and that we have far more control over their option to enter the service or over their employment than, in fact, we have.

I readily agree that most dental technicians are employed in private practice. There are also the dental laboratories which, in the main, serve private practice in the country. The services in the hospitals are distinct and separate. I agree with all that. Probably 95 per cent, of the dental technicians are employed in private service, but my point is that the cuts in the National Health Service are directly responsible for the resultant unemployment among these skilled people. That, surely, is the responsibility of the Ministry, even if the dental technicians are actually employed in private practice.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument, I am ready, and I hope effectively, to answer that point.

I think it fair to make plain at the start that these technicians are, in the main, privately employed by individual dentists and laboratory companies. They are trained in private workshops under apprenticeship agreements drawn up by the National Joint Council of the dentists and the trade unions concerned.

The real problem—and I say this quite frankly—is that we believe that at the present time there are more dental technicians than work for them to do, and I think that a fairly dispassionate study of the figures of people who entered the industry would prove that.

In 1948, 437 people entered the industry and applied for apprenticeships. In 1949, that number increased by 768 to 1,205. I think any dispassionate observer would agree that unless abnormal conditions were to continue, that tremendously increased number of people could not possibly anticipate full and continuous employment.

In 1950, owing to the immediate and high demand, five million dentures were supplied under the National Health Service. At that time, a large number of the apprentices were not sufficiently trained to be able to do this work, and, therefore, at the highest peak of demand, there were probably fewer dental technicians than in later years when the demand decreased.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that a jump in the numbers from 437 to 1,205 in one year, an addition of nearly double the existing number in 1949, is such a tremendous jump that any practical person must recognise that there are now more trained dental technicians than can reasonably be provided with full employment on this specialised work.

The hon. Gentleman made a great point about the charges, but I think it fair to remind him that those charges, which accounted for the most dramatic drop in demand for dentures, were imposed by his colleagues. I want to be fair about this matter, but I do not think that without the charges the level of 5 million dentures—the number supplied in 1950—could possibly have been maintained. In 1953, the number of dentures supplied was 2 million, and I think that this figure will represent the average annual demand.

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to disagree. I think that that will probably be the level for some years. I hope that it will get steadily less. I do not agree with the hon. Member that if the service is a success we shall need more of these people. Rather, I think that if it is a success it will mean we shall want fewer because we want people to be encouraged to look after their teeth, to keep their own teeth longer, and to require fewer dentures. That is our goal.

The hon. Member's forebodings as to the numbers of dentures provided are not, in fact, substantiated by the figures which I have here. He himself gave a figure of 346,000 in the last quarter of 1952. In the last quarter of 1953 the figure was 380,000, and in the first quarter of 1954, 394,000.

Can the hon. Lady give corresponding figures? Can she give me the figures in terms of corresponding periods? I used October, November and December of 1951 and 1952. As there is something in the nature of a seasonal effect in this, one gets a better indication by using corresponding figures rather than periods which do not correspond with the term I used.

The hon. Gentleman used October, November and December, 1952, and gave the figure of 346,000. I have given him the figure of 380,000 for the last quarter of 1953. I do not know what he is grumbling about. The latest figure I have, naturally, is for the first quarter of 1954–394,000—so the figures are getting better and not worse.

There is also the very reassuring fact that, as a result of the treatment charges which were imposed by the present Government, there has been a vast increase in conservation work, particularly with children and adolescents. That bears out the very determined policy of my right hon. Friend, which is that, as far as we possibly can, we should save people's teeth, and bears out the priority he wished to give to children and young people. I cannot accept the accusations made against my right hon. Friend by the hon. Member for Brightside, that my right hon. Friend desires either to cheesepare on this service or that he could not care less. In reply to a Question put by the hon. Member on 5th April, 1954, my right hon. Friend said:
"I am not aware of any loss of dental technicians likely to lead to a serious difficulty in the future."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 31.]
In other words, my right hon. Friend is convinced that there is an adequate number of technicians to deal with the situation. I do not think that there is anything unfair in his reply or any could-not-care-less attitude in any way. I think that the hon. Member was less than just to my right hon. Friend's very real concern for the service. We acknowledge the fact that there was this great inflation in the numbers of apprenticeships, and we say, quite frankly, that we do not think the demand can absorb that number.

As regards technicians directly employed by the hospitals and local authorities, there are between 200 and 250 employed in the hospitals. All except about 80 are in the teaching hospitals. They have been less affected by the reduced treatment. The hon. Member will know that under the amending Act, 1952, the Minister, if he was satisfied that it was expedient in the interests of dental training to remit the charges for dental services at training hospitals, was empowered to do so. That has been done at eight dental teaching hospitals.

At the present time the Whitley Council is drawing up an apprenticeship scheme with reference to the training programme provided in hospital and local authority laboratories to see that there is comprehensive training, that the facilities are adequate and the staff sufficiently technically qualified. It is not for us to say, but I am quite sure that that body must also have considered in its calculations the number of apprentices whom it is practicable to train and whom in the future it will be possible to absorb into this industry.

Under the National Joint Council, of course, there is a restriction.

That is a matter for the Council and is not within our control.

Generally speaking, this matter is one of supply and demand. Our goal is first, preservation; secondly, repair; and, as a third and ultimate stage, the replacement of natural teeth. I cannot accept the attitude of gloom of the hon. Member, which seems to be almost as if the goal of the dental service should be that people should have artificial rather than real teeth. Our goal is to see a lessening in the need for dentures. I say, quite frankly, that there will be no dramatic drop in present levels. That is because of the increasing years people are living—and they are getting older. There is also the increase in population. I therefore do not think there will be any dramatic fluctuation around that annual demand of two million-odd.

There were one or two points raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Peck-ham (Mrs. Corbet). I do not know whether she is aware of the fact, but I think she may find herself in conflict even with her hon. Friend. She made some far-reaching proposals. She suggested that the dental technicians should be permitted to do prosthetic work. That, I believe, has been rejected by the very union which her hon. Friend represents.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary mean that the hon. Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) was suggesting that dental technicians should have access to the mouth and should do prosthetic work? It is true that the union of the dental technicians has rejected the idea of approach to the mouth by dental technicians, but said that they should concentrate on the craftsmanship side. That, of course, includes one thing which the hon. Lady has not taken into consideration, which is appliances for children's teeth.

The hon. Gentleman is not disagreeing with me but rather confirming what I said. Under the Dentists Act, 1921, the performance of dentistry is limited to registered dentists. That, at the present time, includes the fitting of dentures. I do not propose now—and I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me—to go into that highly controversial topic of whether or not there should be any extension there. She will be only too well aware of the controversy that arises on that point within the profession. I must say that to authorise dental technicians to fit dentures would be not only contrary to a very considerable body of opinion in this country—including many dental technicians themselves—but contrary to the practice in many other countries where we accept that they have established a very high standard of dentistry.

The hon. Lady is aware, of course, that there is quite a body of opinion among dental surgeons themselves that this work can be done adequately by the dental technicians without any harm to the patient. I am suggesting that it really ought to be looked at because, apart from the shortage of dental surgeons, I maintain that dental surgeons should be employed almost entirely on the work of preservation.

I do not think that the hon. Lady and I are really in disagreement on this. I know how very wide is her interest in the dental service generally, and how great is her desire to see dental standards raised in this country. But whilst we have a shortage of dentists and a backlog of work to deal with, I think that my right hon. Friend has been more than justified by the results of putting the priority on conservation—we have seen the figures mount—and ensuring that there is certainly an adequate pool of technicians for the work likely to be available.

I am sorry that I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman any cast-iron assurance that it will be possible in the immediate future fully to employ this inflated number of available technicians. It would be unfair and unrealistic not to tell the House exactly what the true position is. I do not think we can ever anticipate a demand like the demand that immediately followed the introduction of the 1948 Act, but I would say that my right hon. Friend watches all these matters very closely. His responsibility is to see that there is the machinery by which the dental health policy can be carried out.

The numbers are available—alas, more than are necessary are available—but we do not feel that removing the charges would necessarily increase the number of pepole requiring the treatment which the hon. Gentleman anticipates. Nor do we believe that it would be correct policy to reverse the present trend of conservative treatment and, at considerable expense to the Exchequer, put the accent on dentures as opposed to conservative treatment. There is ample conservative work for any dentist at the present time. It is not a case of the dentist being denied employment because of the charges; there is ample work to be done. Therefore, we feel that the priority to which I have referred is right and proper.

While I have every sympathy with those members of this profession who entered in the peak year of 1950, I am afraid that I cannot hold out any hope that the demand for dentures will grow to anything like the peak figure, nor will it be possible fully to employ the large num- bers of people who have taken this training, beyond what I believe is necessary to comply with the normal law of supply and demand.

Nyasaland (Economic Development)

12.52 p.m.

To many people in this House and, indeed, outside it, Nyasaland is a little far-off land at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley in Africa. It contains some 4,000 whites and 2 million or more Africans. But you, Mr. Speaker, and I know better. Nyasaland is the land of Livingstone, and its history began on that day, 16th September, 1859, when David Livingstone first gazed on the waters of Lake Nyasa. In those days it was a smiling land, but in subsequent years, at least until the 1890s, there were many wars and troubles, and the foul commerce of slave dealing did much damage to the land until the Pax Britannica.

I have always had an urge to go to Nyasaland. My own people went there over 40 years ago. It is a beautiful land. Some call it the Switzerland of Africa. I look forward to the day when it will perhaps be almost like Switzerland, a tourist country, if we can develop it and open up the inaccessible parts and introduce a tourist industry in the beautiful highlands of Mlanje and Nyika which are so beautifully portrayed by Laurenz Van der Post in his book "Venture to the Interior."

When I was last in that country following my Kenya delegation visit, I found that the people there, whatever their colour, felt that they were somewhat forgotten and that their difficulties and complaints were seldom heard in the House of Commons. Therefore, I take a particular delight today in mentioning some of their difficulties and their hopes for the future. I heard with joy that the Secretary of State for the Colonies is himself going there in a few days' time. Since my return from Central Africa, I have asked a number of Questions and I have had answers, some satisfactory and others not so satisfactory. But now that the Secretary of State is going there to meet the Africans at the Nyasaland Congress, and to talk to the white settlers, I think that we may see a move forward in the affairs of the Colony.

One of the things that disturb me is the large number of able-bodied men who leave this beautiful Colony. I think something like 180,000 of them go as cheap labour to the Rand mines and to Southern Rhodesia. I need not enlarge upon the social and other evils and abuses which result from this. These able-bodied men are leaving their wives, their tribes and their villages, with consequent disruption in domestic and tribal life and lack of manpower to combat soil erosion and to maintain the land as a viable economy.

It is a thoroughly unhealthy thing that so many men leave their native soil. I hope that today we can have some indication of some development schemes that might help to anchor this manpower in its own country. I know that the Nyasa is a nomad, almost a gypsy, and that travel is in his blood. Incidentally, the 1st Nyasaland Battalion were the first colonial forces to enter the war, in Abyssinia, and the last to leave, in Burma. They have a wonderful record both in commerce and industry, and in time of war. Many of them, like the Chinese, send money back to their families, a form of invisible export, but it is not good for the country that so many of them should leave.

May I turn to the subject of agriculture? I should like to pay a tribute to the white pioneers who have gone there in the last half century. They have introduced coffee, cotton, tea and tobacco—the latter two being the major crops at the moment, and particularly tobacco. I should like to ask a question about tobacco. I know that the tobacco that is grown by the African and is cured in what, I think, are termed pit barns—they have over 70,000 of them—is not quite the same quality as of the Southern Rhodesia tobacco. But I have talked to white settlers—white Africans, I suppose one could call them—who have flue-cured tobacco, and particularly at the C.D.C. farm at Karonga. Their flue-cured tobacco, which is good, somehow or other does not seem to get a square deal in the Salisbury wholesale market. It does not sell so easily as the Southern Rhodesia tobacco, although I gather that it is equally good in quality. I should like the Minister to look into that question.

I now want to ask a question about cotton. I gather that the climate is quite suitable for cotton, that there is a cotton marketing board, and that efforts are being made to develop cotton cultivation in the Central Province at the southern end of Lake Nyasa. Could we have some information about that? It seems to me that when there is a bad tobacco year, or if it does not do well in world markets and the price falls, cotton would be an excellent standby.

I should now like to move to the Northern Province, because I am told that soil and climate there are not unlike Tanganyika. We have already begun coffee cultivation there. One of the types of coffee produced is at Nchena-Nchena. I believe that the Tanganyika Coffee Board have accepted their coffee at between £450 and £500 a ton. Could not some encouragement be given to the African coffee farmers in the Northern Province where there is neither land hunger nor over population? I see no reason why in the future, as with the Chagga peoples in North-East Tanganyika, we could not develop a healthy and paying African peasant farmer co-operative coffee industry.

The tea industry is the most important industry in the Southern Province. That is where the bother begins. Twelve months or two years ago there was trouble and disturbance at Cholo and the Shire Highlands. This is the only part of Nyasaland where, as in Kenya, there is anything in the way of a white population, land hunger, and a heavy density of native African population. Unlike Kenya, however, instead of a large number of white settlers, there are at the most only 300 or 400 white farmers. The majority of the land—over one million acres—is owned and cultivated by six major tea companies. One is the Livingstone Bruce Estate and another is the B.C.A. Company.

The experience I gained on my short visit has been confirmed by others who have been since and before, and by Africans with whom I have talked. The bulk of the land is owned by these six large companies. About half a million Africans work there, and there are many more living there as tenants. In 1952 the companies which owned the land put up the rents to their tenants from £1 to £2 12s. 6d., which is a lot of money for an African peasant. I could quote from special reports of United Nations commissions, which give the personal incomes of peoples in dependent and backward territories, such as Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and Kenya. In 1945, the personal income of an African in Nyasaland was £3 10s. per annum. I do not know the most up-to-date figure, but even if it is as much as £6, £7, or £8, the sum of £2 12s. 6d. is quite a large proportion.

The system of tenancy is complicated, and it would be too academic to enter into a discussion of its rights and wrongs now. All I would say is that when the white settlers arrived there some 50 years ago they found, as in Kenya, large areas of the territory which were quite bare of population. Slave dealers had operated there in the past and the population had been dissipated and decimated. I have checked the facts very carefully, and it is apparent that in many cases the native chiefs received only a few bolts of cloth in return for the land which the white settlers took over. It is a debatable argument whether what are termed certificates of claim, given by Sir Harry Johnston to the white settlers, constitute what we should regard as title deeds. The Africans have always argued that the white settlers are not lawfully and legally entitled to some of the land which they now farm.

Another source of irritation arises from the fact that the tea plantations are doing very well. No one will complain of that. Tea is now 3s. 10d. a lb. wholesale, and that works out at £580 a ton. I wish I had a few shares in some of those companies. The point is, however, that if the tea industry is doing well and wants more and more land for tea cultivation, the African tenants are evicted as the tea plantations expand. There is no security of tenure for the African tenants living on the periphery of these plantations. That is a source of annoyance, which gave rise to disturbances in Cholo and other places 15 or 18 months ago.

I do not want to weary the House with many quotations, but I should like to refer to the reports of some of the commissions which have considered the question of land ownership in Nyasaland beginning with the judgment of Mr. Justice Nunan, in 1903. Without being too long-winded, I can say that nearly all these judgments and commissions tend to come down on the side of the Africans.

In 1924 the East African Commission—then known as the Ormsby-Gore Commission—said:
"We cannot but regard it as anomalous that in Southern Nyasaland (the Shire Hi