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Commons Chamber

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1954

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 4th May, 1954

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Trade And Commerce

Coal Sales (Grading Complaints)

1.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the extent to which coal merchants are selling low grade coal at high grade prices contrary to the provisions of the Merchandise Marks Acts; and if he will initiate prosecutions, in view of the fact that the general interests of the country are affected by this.

No, Sir. Overcharging and undercharging are not offences under the Merchandise Marks Acts. The prices of coal are fixed under the Retail Coal Prices Order, 1941, and complaints about coal prices should be addressed to local fuel overseers.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that I complained about quality and not about price? Is he correct in saying that if a customer is sold Grade B coal at Grade A prices that customer has no redress?

It is conceivable that some redress could be brought about under the Merchandise Marks Acts, but complaints about the price charged for particular grades of coal would be better addressed either to the local fuel overseer or in the form of Questions put down to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power.

Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate to what extent it is compulsory on retailers to issue to the customer a bill showing the quality and the price per cwt.? Is the Minister aware that many retailers are not doing this, and that therefore it is impossible for the customer to have any redress at all?

That question should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power.

Petroleum Products (Prices)

2.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will ask the Monopolies Commission to hold an inquiry into the prices charged by the petrol and oil companies.

15.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he will take, through the Monopolies Commission or otherwise, in view of the excessive prices charged by oil companies for petrol.

Without accepting the implication that prices for petroleum products are excessive, I will continue to bear in mind the supply of these products as a possible subject for a reference to the Monopolies Commission.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the price of petrol and fuel oil is an important factor in the cost-of-living index, and is he satisfied that there is genuine competition and not a number of private arrangements between the big oil companies?

With a view to helping the right hon. Gentleman to come to a decision more quickly, will he bear in mind the costly ballyhoo by which the oil companies bamboozle motorists into paying fancy prices for mysterious ingredients which are supposed to pep up the petrol, but which seem to be pretexts merely to pep up the price?

In view of the fact that Persian Gulf oil is again in the news and that its cost of production is one-third that of American oil, will the Minister make representations so that some of us may have the cheaper oil from the Persian Gulf instead of having to buy American oil at prices which are artificially kept up?

Wool And Camelhair Garments

3.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to make a statement concerning his further investigation into transactions of certain wool and camelhair manufacturers.

The subsequent transactions to which I have referred concern the sale or exposure for sale of garments made from the wool and camel-hair cloth bearing the labels in question. I have no evidence on the basis of which I could institute proceedings; if anybody has such evidence, I shall be glad to consider it.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable disquiet among some of these manufacturers because they manufacture cloth to the requirements of the wholesalers who then put the wrong labels on the garments? Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to look at that aspect of the matter?

It might be, but I have no evidence of the sale of these garments to the customers with the wrong labels on them. If I receive such evidence, I will look at it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say how he proposes to get such evidence beyond saying that he will look at any evidence brought to his notice in this House? We have no evidence from him that he takes any steps to tell dissatisfied consumers to come forward and to help him with prosecutions. He does not seem to be doing anything at all on those lines.

As far as I know, I have not had a single complaint in this connection.

Light Industries, Goole

4.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the need for light industries to be developed in Goole; and whether he will encourage industrialists to establish them there.

I am aware that some further industrial employment would be welcomed in the Goole area, but there is, as the hon. Member knows, a limit to the amount of industry seeking new quarters.

Does not the Minister agree that it is a very serious situation when about one-sixth of the adult working population of Goole has to travel out of the town in order to obtain work? This entails something like 2 to 2½hours' travel a day. Could not the right hon. Gentleman do something to encourage light industries to settle in the town?

I will bear all these factors in mind in giving consideration to this matter, but only 289 out of a total insured population of 12,000 in the Goole area are at the moment unemployed.

Calico Printing Industry (Report)

5.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has considered the Report of the Monopoly Commission on the calico printing industry; and what action he proposes to take.

I have arranged to discuss this Report with the industry. I shall make a further statement on this matter in due course.

Had not the President had this Report in his hands for some months before it was published? If he withholds these -reports from the House, ought he not to be able to make up his mind as soon as we are allowed to see them?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have no intention of making immediate or early decisions on any of these cases. These reports from the Monopolies Commission are large, complex and important, and I think they require very careful study before any Government takes action on them.

Retail Trading Standards Association (Correspondence)

6.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what reply he has sent to the letter from the secretary of the Retail Trading Standards Association concerning the information given by him to his Department's investigator on the matter of the "Masnaga" bedspread; and if, as the investigator was given access to correspondence admitting infringement of the Merchandise Marks Acts, he will make a further statement upon the matter.

A reply has been sent to the secretary of the Retail Trading Standards Association, who is at liberty to disclose the contents to the hon. Member if he so wishes.

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that that is rather a scurvy way to apologise for the answer which he gave? May I ask him whether the letter to which he refers is a formal acknowledgment from his Department, or whether it deals with the subject matter? May I ask him, further, whether he is acknowledging that he made a mistake in the House in reporting on this matter?

This answer was not to the hon. Lady. It was to a third party. The third party is quite at liberty to disclose the answer to the hon. Lady if he so wishes.

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that this reply was made in answer to a Question of mine, when I told the right hon. Gentleman that he was mistaken. Would he be good enough to tell us whether he was mistaken or not?

No mistake occurred at all. This is correspondence which is taking place between the Board of Trade and somebody other than the hon. Lady. I am not entitled to disclose that correspondence to the hon. Lady. If the third party wishes to do so, that is a matter for him.

Italian Silk Scarves

7.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that yarn dyed fine silk organza scarves, 20 inches by 20 inches, imported from Italy are being retailed in this country at approximately 4s. 11d., and that this compares with similar British goods which are sold at 8s.; and what action he proposes to take in this matter.

Silk scarves imported from foreign sources are already subject to import duty at the rate of 33½per cent, ad valorem or 15s. 0d. per 1b., whichever is the greater. I have no evidence that this duty is not sufficient.

Will my right hon. Friend say how the British textile industry can possibly compete with the Italians after paying nearly double wages and giving better conditions of work than is the case with the Italians? Will he do something to protect this industry, because unless something is done very soon it will run into very serious difficulties. Will my right hon. Friend look at the samples which I have in my hand giving proof of what I have said?

I will certainly look at anything which my hon. and gallant Friend cares to put before me, but there is a very substantial protective duty on these scarves already.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is not much point in buying from abroad things which are dearer than those which we have at home?

Match Industry (Revised Swedish Agreement)

8.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action has been taken by the British Match Corporation to carry out the recommendations of the Monopolies Commission.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) on 5th April.

Woollen Textile Mills, West Riding (Minister's Visit)

9.

asked the President of the Board of Trade for what purpose the Minister of State, Board of Trade, made an official visit to woollen textile mills in the West Riding of Yorkshire on 21st April, 1954.

This visit was an informal one, undertaken in order to enable the Minister to see some of the processes, and to meet leading personalities, in this very important exporting industry.

Will the President say what opinion was expressed to him by his right hon. Friend, after the visit, on the state of health of this industry which for generations has been, and still is, of vital importance to the economy of the country?

My right hon. Friend informed me that he was much impressed by the vigorous and enterprising outlook of the industry concerned.

Trading Estate Factories, Sunderland

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a further statement on the trading estate factories in Sunderland recently occupied by Messrs. Price (Tailors) and Fordham and Company.

No, Sir. I cannot at present add to the answers to the hon. Member's previous Questions about these two factories.

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many North Eastern Trading Estates Limited factories previously occupied are at present unused.

Four, Sir, of which two have been allocated to new tenants and are being prepared for occupation by them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind, in trying to influence new firms to come to Sunderland, that there is nothing wrong with the work people or management in that town? Will he do what he can to overcome the influence of the hon. Member for Sunder land, North (Mr. F. Willey) who is doing great disservice to this area?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the period of the Labour Administration there were not so many complaints from the Sunder land area as there are today?

This is going a little wider than the strictly statistical field of the Question.

Merseyside Development Area (Parliamentary Secretary's Visit)

12.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what positive results have been achieved by the recent official visit of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Merseyside industrial Development Area; and to what extent it has brought nearer a decision to build an advance factory at Birkenhead.

My hon. and learned Friend was invited to Lancashire to see for himself what progress is being made in the three Development Areas. As to the second part of the Question, it is not our policy to build factories in advance of demand.

Is the Minister aware that no new factory accommodation is avail able in Birkenhead and that until advance factories are built there is no possibility of attracting alternative industries? Will he not do something more about it?

The hon. Member knows that I have the interest of this important area very much at heart, but there are powerful arguments against the building of advance factories in this, as in other areas.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the implementation of the Government's policy of bring new indusdustries to the North-East Lancashire Development Area is warmly welcomed there and that his hon. and learned learned Friend's visit made a notable contribution in seeing what development is going on in accordance with that policy?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that Nelson and Colne, which is admittedly at the worst end of this Development Area, has derived no benefit whatever so far from the declaration of this Development Area?

I think it must have escaped the hon. Member's attention that, since this Government came into office, the area has been declared a Development Area and a start has been made with one of the biggest factories in the whole of North-East Lancashire.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether "advance" building means "speculative" building?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman himself mistaken? Has it escaped his attention that the factory about which he is talking, though in this North-East Lancashire area, is not in the Burnley or Nelson and Colne end of it?

The hon. Gentleman may criticise the fact that it is not in a particular part of the Development Area, but until I started on this matter it was not a Development Area and there was no factory there anyway.

Films (Block Booking)

13.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if his attention has been drawn to the practice contrary to the provisions of the Cinematograph Acts of block booking whereby film renters insist on exhibitors booking several films at once, and of renters insisting on exhibitors agreeing to pay the Eady levy before they can have films; and whether he will take action to stop these practices.

No, Sir. The Cinematograph Films Acts do not prohibit the practice known as block booking; nor do the Acts regulate in any way the administration of the British Film Production Fund, which is a voluntary scheme run by the industry itself.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what exhibitors mean by the practice of block booking is the system under which renters compel them to take a large number of films in order to get one or two films which they want? Is it not also a fact that the Eady levy is supposed to be voluntary, and is it not therefore wrong to make it compulsory to pay that levy before a man can obtain films?

Block booking, as described by my hon. Friend, is not, I understand, barred by the Cinematograph Films Acts.

Weights And Measures (Legislation)

14.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he can give any indication when legislation to implement the Report of the Committee on Weights and Measures Legislation will be introduced, having regard to the state of present legislation and the need to remedy anomalies which have developed since the last Act on this subject was passed.

National Finance

Excess Profits Tax (Deferred Repairs)

16.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is prepared to extend beyond 31st March, 1954, the time limit by which repairs deferred from the Excess Profits Tax period must be carried out in order to qualify for relief from Excess Profits Tax.

No, Sir. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer given by my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) on 16th July, 1953. My right hon. Friend thought it right to come to a decision at that time so that traders should be in no doubt about the finality of the date, and he is not prepared to vary that decision.

Is there not some real hard ship in this case if it was due to Government action that the repairs were deferred?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that these expenses relate to a tax which itself came to an end in 1946. The original terminal date for these claims was 1949. It has been twice postponed, and I think we must now wind up this tax.

Steel Company Shares (Sale)

17.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many steel firms have been returned to private shareholders; and how many remain to be disposed of by the Agency.

The Agency have to date completed negotiations for the sale to private shareholders of securities in eight companies, and still retain direct interest in the equity capital of 62 companies.

Can the right hon. Gentle man tell us how much time the Agency has at its disposal in which to return all these firms to private enterprise? Can he say, in particular, how much longer it will be before the English Steel Corporation and Guest, Keen and Nettlefold are returned to private enterprise?

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that it would be most undesirable in the public interest to speculate about the disposal of particular companies. On the general issue, the hon. Lady may remember that during the debates on the Steel Bill her right hon. and hon. Friends were anxious that we should not rush the matter in order to accelerate sales, thereby not getting adequate prices. I should have thought she ought to be grateful for the way in which the Iron and Steel Agency and my right hon. Friend are conducting this matter.

In view of the obvious failure of the Government's plans to denationalise the steel industry, would it not now be wiser to reconsider the whole matter and repeal the Act?

As that question is founded on a false hypothesis, its conclusion is inevitably even falser.

Earned Income Allowance (Married Women)

18.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the gain would have been to the Exchequer last year if the first £120 of the earnings of married women had not been exempt from Income Tax.

The estimated cost in 1953–54 of the tax relief on the earnings of married women was £85 million, which includes the cost of the separate set of reduced rate reliefs as well as the wife's earned income allowance of £120. It does not follow, how ever, that the Exchequer would benefit by this amount if the reliefs were with drawn, as many married women might stop working.

Is the Minister aware that the proposal to abolish this relief has now received the support of the Committee set up on tax reform, and, at any rate, the revenue from such abolition would be at least sufficient to meet the cost of providing equal pay in all Civil Service Departments, and even relief for married men without families?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has over-simplified the recommendation of the Royal Commission, but I note his view that further tax should be imposed on married women who work.

The Highlands And North Wales (Assistance)

20.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, to assist the problems of areas subject to persistent depopulation, such as parts of the Highlands of Scotland and North Wales, he will consider taking steps to schedule such areas as ones in which a lower rate of Income Tax would-be payable.

Is the Financial Secretary aware that during the last 100 years, while the population of Britain has increased five times, the population of large parts of the country shows exactly the reverse trend and that some places have become derelict? In view of the enormous expenditure contemplated for new towns, does he not think that it would be to the advantage of the whole of the United Kingdom to encourage by all possible fiscal means the population to grow up spontaneously, in places where it is sparse?

My noble Friend knows very well that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scot land is taking many measures to help the aim which he shares with my noble Friend, but I doubt very much whether a system of differential Income Tax as between different parts of the United Kingdom is a very sensible way to tackle it.

Waterproof Coats (Tax)

21.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will now take steps to authorise a revision of Customs Notice, 78D, in order to deal with the anomaly under which, in the case of double-texture waterproof coats under the D Scheme, tax is more severely assessed on cheaper garments made from cotton than on the more expensive garments made from wool.

Does the generous Financial Secretary not recognise that the trade has discussed this with Customs and Excise officials, who acknowledge that it is an anomaly, and could not the Minister give some other answer than the one he has given, if that is acknowledged?

I certainly do not accept the suggestion which the hon. Gentleman makes that pronouncements of this sort have been made on policy by public officials, but I agree with him that there is a point for consideration here, and it will be considered together with other difficulties over this tax at the next review of the tax.

Why could not the right hon. Gentleman have given that answer in the first place?

Because the one which I gave in the first place was perfectly adequate for the hon. Gentle man.

Can my right hon. Friend give any indication when the next review of this tax will take place?

Government Expenditure

23.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proposals he has for a closer control of Government expenditure.

My right hon. Friend is examining this question in connection with the review of Government expenditure to which I referred in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W Smithers) on 27th April.

So far as administrative expenditure is concerned, will the right hon. Gentleman consider better control by this House, and also whether, so far as the more extravagant excesses of State expenditure are concerned, it would not be possible to establish some personal responsibility?

My right hon. Friend, as my original answer indicated, is reviewing the whole subject, and I have no doubt that the particular points which the hon. Gentleman has in mind will not escape attention.

Will it be possible for my right hon. Friend to say when he expects that the Chancellor will be able to make any answer as a result of this examination which is taking place?

Is the Financial Secretary fully satisfied with the Chancellor's economic efforts to date, which reveal that total Government expenditure is more than £1,000 million higher than it was under the Labour Government?

So far as I understand it, the criticism which the right hon. Gentleman has made has been that we have economised too much rather than too little.

National Savings Campaign (Expenditure)

24.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury what functions are performed by the one chief illustrator, three senior illustrators and two leading illustrators who are employed at an annual cost of £5,592 in connection with the promotion of National Savings by the people.

Their main job is to help to produce posters, leaflets and other publications used by the 200,000 savings groups, the local savings committees, the banks, post offices and other organisations which are concerned with the work of the National Savings Movement.

Are these illustrators responsible for the design of the "fritter bug," and is it intended to allow the establishment of similar illustrators in other Departments of the State?

I am afraid that my entomology is not up to answering that question without notice.

While the right hon. Gentleman has described the main activities of these gentlemen, will he confirm whether it is part of their subsidiary activities to paint rosy pictures of the Treasury and what they are up to at the present time?

That work would be so unnecessary that one would not ask anyone to do it.

25.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury the reason for the increase of £108,813 in the outlays of the National Savings Committee.

The main reason for the increase is to meet the cost of a special campaign to increase savings which the National Savings Movement, with the full support of my right hon. Friend, is arranging to carry on towards the end of this year.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that it would be an elementary saving not to expend this additional sum of £108,813 in the outlays of the National Savings Committee, and would it not be better to spend it in stimulating the trustee savings banks and other established organs of savings which cost the Exchequer nothing?

This campaign is designed to enable the National Savings Movement generally, embracing all the savings organisations, to make a special effort to encourage savings, and my right hon. Friend is fully satisfied that the effort in the favourable circumstances of today is well worth the money.

26.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury how much of the estimated increase in advertising by the National Savings Committee is to be expended in commercial television.

Does my right hon. Friend tell me that this important advertising campaign, backed by the illustrators and the additional £108,000 which is to be spent, is ignoring the possibilities of commercial television?

Nothing is being ignored, but perhaps I had better not anticipate today's debate.

Would not the best saving be to spend no money upon commercial television?

That question does not arise out of the original Question, but I could not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman more.

Government Departments

Chief Inspector Of Factories (Salary)

19.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that the salary of the Chief Factory Inspector has been raised since 1938 from £1.650 to £2,125, whereas the salaries of the Chief Inspectors of Mines and of Taxes has risen from £1,650 to £2,750 and the salary of the Senior Inspector of Education from £1,650 to £3,000; and why there is now such a disparity between these salaries which were all similar in 1938.

The facts are not quite accurately stated by the hon. Member, but I agree that there is now a greater disparity between these salaries than there was in 1938. In each case the current salary is fixed in the light of the current duties and responsibilities of the post, which have increased in some cases more than in others. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour has a claim for an increase in the salary of the Chief Inspector of Factories at present under consideration.

While thanking the Financial Secretary for the way in which he has answered this Question, may I ask him if he is aware that, if there is such a disparity so patent as this, even if I am not absolutely correct in my figures, it does mean the degradation of the scale for the whole of the Department as compared with other Departments, and this may explain why, in the entry group for the factory inspectors' rate, almost no one is now entering with scientific or technical qualifications but merely with an Arts degree, and that it is not reasonable to make this the Cinderella of all the Departments?

I certainly cannot agree that there is any degradation in the status of this most important Department, but in view of the last part of my answer, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would prefer not to press me now on this particular point.

Prime Minister's Staff (Salaries)

22.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many of the staff employed in the office of the Prime Minister have had no increase in their salaries or wages since 1946; and how many of these have to meet the cost of their postage, secretarial assistance, living-away-from-home expenses, and all other expenses necessarily incurred whilst performing their duties on behalf of the State, from their personal salaries.

While I rather anticipated that reply, may I ask the Financial Secretary if he is aware of the fact that in the opinion of the Department of the Civil Service there are no civil servants in this position, that in the opinion of local government departments there is no one in this position, and in the opinion of private enterprise there are no workers or staff in this position? The only section of the population in this position is Members of Parliament, and will he look at this matter to see if they cannot be put on the same basis as the rest of the community.

This Question does not appear to relate to Members of Parliament.

Housing

Building Man-Hours

28.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the estimated number of man-hours required, at the last convenient date, to build a 1947 average traditional three-bedroom house of 1,029 square feet.

I am informed that the estimate of man-hours required to build such a house in 1953 is about 2,400.

Stockport

29.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many houses and flats, respectively, have been erected in the county borough of Stockport during the 12 months ended 30th April, 1954.

Figures up to 30th April are not yet available. The figures for the 12 months ending 31st March, 1954, will be published in Appendix B to the Housing Return on 10th May.

Housing Applicants (Qualifications)

32.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware of the plight of overcrowded families who, having moved voluntarily from one municipal area into another, then find they cannot remain in their new accommodation and that they have been struck off the housing list of their former area and cannot be accepted on the list of any other municipal authority; and whether he will circularise local authorities with a view to recommending the exercise of latitude in such cases.

I am asking the Housing Management Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee to investigate the whole question of residential qualifications now required by certain local authorities from applicants for houses.

Do I take it that this answer covers the point in my other Question? May I ask the Minister again to give some indication when we can have a report on the matter, which is of great urgency?

Recent experience has shown that it would be good to refer back to this Committee the whole problem, on which they made a report some years ago. This point, together with wider issues, will be covered by their advice to me.

Is there any arrangement to cover the case of a family which moves to another area only to find it is unable to get on to the waiting list in the new area and has lost its position in the list in the old area?

I cannot compel authorities to take any steps. The matter is much wider. I would like the Central Housing Advisory Committee, which does admirable work in this respect and carries great authority when it makes a report, to give me advice over the whole field.

House Purchase (Improved Facilities)

33.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is yet in a position to make a statement about the means of making house ownership possible for those who have not got the necessary capital to make a large deposit but have adequate income to repay the loan.

Yes, Sir. After consultation with the associations of local authorities and the Building Societies' Association, I am urging county councils and local housing authorities to make full use of their powers under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts and Sections 4 and 5 of the Housing Act, 1949. In particular, I am recommending each of these authorities to operate two complementary schemes of guarantee which have been worked out with the Building Societies' Association. Under these schemes the authority and my Department will share, as equal partners with the building society, the extra risk involved in the building society's making a bigger advance than it could make without a guarantee. The first scheme contemplates a building society advance of 90 per cent, on any dwelling valued at up to £2,500; the second, a building society advance of 95 per cent, on any post-1918 dwelling valued at up to £2,000. Full particulars are given in a circular which is being sent to authorities tonight. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. The circular also urges all the authorities mentioned to use to the full their powers to make advances themselves for house purchase and other purposes. I hope hon. Members on all sides of the House will do their utmost to help me to persuade local authorities to make all these facilities freely available and so encourage this excellent form of personal saving.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the great satisfaction which his statement will give not only in my constituency but to thousands of people all over the country who are only too anxious to own their own houses?

Is the Minister not aware that high interest rates are the greatest drawback to house ownership? Will he have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask him to reduce the Bank rate so as to enable building societies to follow suit?

I would have thought the rather large deposit represented the main difficulty. If we can bridge that gap by requiring a smaller amount of deposit, we shall make an advance towards what all sides of the House want to achieve.

Will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that the problems in the past in house purchase have been, on the one hand, the size of the deposit, which we hope the present announcement will deal with, and on the other hand, the rate of repayment? If we pursue a line of encouraging people now on a waiting list to switch from being subsidised tenants to the purchase of houses, have we not to produce some scheme to reduce not only deposits but the rate of repayment?

If my hon. Friend will look at the scheme when published, he will find that it sets out in detail proposed schemes of repayment.

In view of the invitation to local authorities to invest more money in privately-owned houses, can the Minister give advice to them how to maintain the quality of houses?

Local authorities are asked either to implement their existing powers to make advances of money or to operate the new scheme of guarantees, which may not cost them any money, except if there is bad debt. I hope that they will advance along both lines. As to the quality of houses, that is taken into account when the original contract is entered into and the valuation is made by the building society.

I have made an announcement for the territories for which I am responsible.

Does the proposed scheme apply solely to building societies, or also to banks and other institutions accustomed to making loans to prospective purchasers of houses?

In the first instance I thought the best scheme was to get the local authority associations and the Building Societies' Association together. If they are all agreed—and we are only setting out typical schemes—we can begin to work with all people who are prepared to operate along the same lines.

The best course would be for the right hon. Gentleman to put down a Question to my right hon. Friend.

Are these matters decided by the Government as a whole, or do Ministers decide them separately?

Housing legislation, as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, is different in Scotland from the Housing Acts under which I am operating, and which do not apply to Scotland.

Is not the Secretary of State for Scotland sitting on the Government Front Bench? Can he not give any reply?

Will the implementation of any part of this scheme require legislation?

I am advised that none of it will require legislation at the present time.

Local Government (Re-Organisation)

30.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what further progress has been made in respect of the re-organisation of local government, particularly in view of the desire of some municipal boroughs to secure county borough powers and status.

I cannot yet add to the statement I made in the debate on the Second Reading of the Luton Corporation Bill on 18th March.

Surely the Minister can give some indication when we can have a report on this very important subject, seeing that a large number of municipal bodies are awaiting this report?

Can the Minister say when we are likely to get some definite statement on the matter?

Ministry Of Works

Yew Hedges, Birdcage Walk (Removal)

34.

asked the Minister of Works the value, per bush, of the yew hedge in St. James's Park; how many bushes there are; why they are being taken up; and why this work was not done early in March before the bushes had begun to put on growth.

There were about 3,700 bushes in the Yew Hedge along Birdcage Walk. Those worth transplanting might fetch 10s. each, but I expect to find homes for them in property under my care. The removal took place as soon as labour was available.

The decision to do away with the hedge followed public approval of the opening up of the park, which occurred when the hedges opposite the Horse Guards and the Mall had to be taken out. I am sure from the expressions of opinion which I have received that the hedges are generally thought to be better out than in.

Does not my right hon. Friend consider that the remaining rabbit wire is an eye-sore; and will he give instructions that the bushes in their new sites will be liberally and frequently watered, bearing in mind that I hope to ask him at a future date how many of them are alive?

Yes, Sir. I agree about the wire, but we must do one thing at a time.

What is the total cost of this operation? How much public money was lost as a result of this?

They cost £300 to plant. That was some years ago, and the hedge has gone down hill ever since.

Normanton Barrows

35.

asked the Minister of Works why he has allowed the Normanton group of barrows, near Stonehenge, to be ploughed up; and what steps he is taking to prevent this and other destruction of ancient monuments.

The Normanton Barrows are listed under the Ancient Monuments Acts. The owner should, therefore, have given my Department notice of his intention to carry out work affecting the Barrows. No such notice was received.

I had already taken the following steps to try to prevent such damage. I arranged with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to include in a leaflet issued to farmers a warning about ancient monuments and, in particular, barrows, on their land. When a monument is listed under the Ancient Monuments Acts the owner or occupier is asked to inform any future owner or occupier of the existence of the monument. In addition to my travelling inspectorate, about 40 voluntary correspondents help us by passing on any information affecting their areas. The local archaeological societies also assist.

Clearly, further steps will have to be taken, and I am asking the Ancient Monuments Board, which I have recently reconstituted, to go into the whole problem and advise me what more I can do.

While appreciating the reply, will the Minister bear in mind that there is a considerable amount of resentment at the continued vandalism which involves the destruction of so many historic monuments, and will he take every possible initiative in conjunction with the voluntary bodies in regard to the further steps which are obviously called for.

I did rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a matter of public interest. It is not customary to allow a supplementary from this side of the House?

The House must trust me to use my discretion as to how many supplementary questions should be allowed on any one Question. It is possible to discuss any Question for a long time.

Scotland

Storm Damage And Compensation

38.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now make a statement up-to-date of the amount of direct damage done in Scotland by the storm of 31st January, 1953; and what progress has been made in compensating persons who are to be, but have not yet been, compensated.

The House has already been informed about the severe damage to woodlands. Apart from the Government assistance already announced, it has been agreed that the Lord Mayor's Fund should help those who have lost timber in the windblow.

Damage to public services was of the order of £430,000, of which it is estimated that £387,000 will fall on Government funds. It is not possible to assess the total damage to private property, but claims on the Lord Mayor's Fund—apart from those in respect of damage to woodlands —may amount to some £300,000. Of the claims so far received, about 95 per cent, have been passed for payment.

Does the Secretary of State not realise that this has an important bearing upon the amount of food produced by some of the most productive land in Scotland, that it deserves constructive consideration from that aspect, and what is he doing to restore the food supply?

I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that everything possible is being done and will be done, but timber, of course, is not on arable land and fallen timber does not affect the food supply.

Police Candidates (Written Examinations)

39.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether his attention has been drawn to the high percentage of candidates for the police who fail to pass the written examination; whether he is satisfied that the questions asked are not unduly academic; and whether he will place copies of some of these examination papers in the Library.

I am aware that a considerable number of candidates for appointment to Scottish police forces are rejected on educational grounds. The educational standard required in a police recruit and the nature of the entrance examination that he must pass, which may be written or oral, are primarily matters for the chief constable concerned. I have no reason to think that an unduly high standard is required. I am arranging for copies of papers recently set for candidates for the Glasgow City Police Force to be placed in the Library.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to bear in mind that a man may be a very good policeman with out being a particularly good scholar, that it is difficult to recruit sufficient policemen, and that it is unwise for any police authority to set too high an academic standard?

I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that, as a matter of fact, the standard we require is that of the average pupil of 15 years of age.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his remarks about Scottish policemen are a reflection upon himself as the head of the Scottish Education Department, and would he not arrange for the police with lower intelligence qualifications to have tuition when they become members of the force in order that they should attain a higher standard, as everyone will agree that policemen ought to have a good standard of education?

While we shall do all we can to maintain as good a standard as possible, I should like to assure the right hon. Gentleman that at the same time we also want policemen.

Housing (Space Standards)

40.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many local authorities have objected to the contents of Circular No. 14/1954, dated 15th March, dealing with space standards in local authority houses; and what is the nature of his reply.

I have so far received representations from nine local authorities who have been told that, while the new standards are not mandatory, they can result in important economies without loss of amenity, and that I am most anxious that local authorities should give them a fair trial.

I missed part of the right hon. Gentleman's answer, but can he tell me whether the standards suggested in the circular are compulsory on local authorities? Secondly, can he tell me when he is going to make the up-to-date survey of housing requirements in Scotland which is indicated in this circular as being necessary?

In reply to the first part of the supplementary, the standards are not mandatory but do effect a saving in materials and labour and are £100 to £150 less in cost to build. I should like notice of the other part of the supplementary.

Can the Secretary of State tell us if the standards will have to be taken into account in connection with the announcement about houses in England which has just been make by the Minister of Housing and Local Government?

I do not think that we should necessarily follow English rules, but I will consider that point. To those hon. Gentlemen and members of local authorities who are doubtful about these houses. I would point out that I opened a new block at Sighthill, near Edinburgh, last Friday and I would ask them to view them before they make up their minds.

On a point of order. Would you, Mr. Speaker, allow the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement on the announcement just made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government as this is the last Question on Scottish housing which is on the Order Paper today?

The Secretary of State has sent me no request and there is no notice on the Order Paper about it. I could not possibly allow it.

43.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has considered the letter from the Galston Town Council on the matter of the space-saving house; and what reply he has sent.

Yes, Sir. I am sending the hon. Member a copy of the reply given to the council, which explains the advantages to be secured by the adoption of the revised space standards.

But surely, in view of the broadcast made last night by the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland will realise that these local authorities know just what is required in the matter of housing, and is he aware that they view with dismay this lowering of the standards of local authority houses at a time when the Secretary of State is permitting higher standards in private house-building, and will he consult local authorities about this matter and with draw the regulation?

As I have said, it is not mandatory, and I would ask hon. Members and local authorities to view these houses. Not only have I been round the unoccupied ones, but I have visited a tenant of one of the houses and I find it difficult to understand the cause for this disquiet.

Since the Secretary of State speaks so highly about these houses which he has opened, why has he given permission for a higher amount of money to be spent by people who can afford to build their own houses?

For the very good reason that if people can afford to spend more money in building their own houses, I do not see why they should not be allowed to do so.

Hospital Boards (Appointments)

41.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why the terms of office of ex-Provost Slater, Buckhaven, and of Baillie Mrs. Anderson, Leslie, on the East Fife Hospitals Board of Management have not been renewed.

The South-Eastern Regional Hospital Board, who are responsible for making these appointments, decided that the time had come to introduce into the Board of Management some new members from different areas and having different experience. This decision in no way reflects upon the services rendered by the members who were not reappointed, both of whom had served on the Board of Management since 1948, and to whom I take this opportunity of expressing my thanks.

Why does the Secretary of State not indicate the reasons at the time when informing these people that their services will not be further required? Is it not a fact that both these people have got a splendid record of public service and that to change merely for the sake of change is quite ludicrous?

I said there was no reflection upon the members at all. The normal appointment is for a period of three years; actually, they had served since 1948, and it is quite a good thing periodically to introduce new blood and to gain new experience.

Is this a general principle in Scotland, as there are other areas, including the Borders, where changes have been made?

I said in my original answer that the regional hospital boards are responsible, and I think the policy which they are carrying out is a perfectly normal and proper one.

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that there are other members of the East Fife Hospitals Board of Management who have also served since 1948? Is he further aware that ex-Provost Slater, and Bailie Mrs. Anderson have had a long-standing dispute with; the Regional Hospitals Board about hospital development in Fife, and can he say if their departure from the board has anything to do with the dispute, because there is considerable feeling in the area?

As I have said, this is the responsibility of the Regional Hospitals Board. I should not like to debate this in answer to a question, but if the hon. Member requires further information, I will certainly supply it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you would use your special knowledge to ensure that when Scottish terms are used they will be spelt properly? The word "Bailie" has only one "1."

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

42.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what changes have been made in the personnel of the South-East Scotland Regional Hospital Board during the past two years.

During the past two years, 13 persons have ceased to be members of the Board and five new appointments have been made. I will circulate the names of the individuals concerned in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is serious disquiet at what appears to be political discrimination in making these appointments, and will he tell the House what he is going to do about it?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, if there is any such feeling, those who have it are completely misinformed, and I hope they will clear their minds of it. I think that in the course of any Adjournment debate I could do so.

The right hon. Gentle man ought to take this more seriously. Is he not aware that there is a feeling that people who have Labour sympathies are being deposed from these boards in favour of people affiliated to his own party?

I really must reply to that question put by the right hon. Gentleman. If he is referring to Lord Mathers, whom we all know very well, Lord Mathers intimated to me his desire to be relieved of his post and he has therefore been relieved.

The following are the names:
During the past two years the following have ceased to be members of this Board:—
  • Bailie J. G. Banks, Edinburgh.
  • Mr. J. Black, Bo'ness.
  • Dr. E. A. Cormack, Edinburgh.
  • Councillor Mrs. J. Dowie, Berwickshire.
  • Lady Fraser, Edinburgh.
  • Miss A. Hankey, Selkirkshire.
  • Mrs. I. McNeill, Edinburgh.
  • Mr. D. B. Martin, Fife.
  • Lord Mathers, Edinburgh.
  • Professor W. Oliver, Edinburgh.
  • Major D. F. O. Russell, Markinch.
  • Dr. A. Simpson, Hawick.
  • Sir Henry Wade, Edinburgh.
The following new members have been appointed: —
  • Mrs. M. H. Anstruther-Gray, Cupar, Fife.
  • Miss J. P. Ferlie, Edinburgh.
  • Dr. J. C. G. Mercer, North Berwick.
  • Professor G. H. Percival, Edinburgh.
  • Dr. G. J. Summers, Edinburgh.

Lerwick Herring Catch (Disposal)

44.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what arrangements have at present been made for the disposal of the Lerwick herring catch this summer.

Subject to supply and the negotiation of satisfactory prices, the Herring Industry Board factory will be used to capacity for kippering and quick freezing; and, as in previous years, the Board hope to make arrangements for the curing of all available herring of suitable quality. I am informed that a klondyking firm intend to operate at Lerwick; and the Board will buy surplus herring for reduction to oil and meal.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any un certainty about the klondyking and the curing? I missed the earlier part of his answer, so I am not sure whether this is a pious hope or whether he has some feeling of security about it?

It depends on the conditions and the hopes of disposing of the catch but, all being well, it is the intention of the klondyking firm to operate at Lerwick, and I hope they will do so.

Atomic Weapons (Quebec Agreement)

45.

asked the Prime Minister what requests he has received from Her Majesty's Opposition to publish the terms of the 1948 agreement on atomic matters.

But is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great anxiety amongst all parties in this House as to what actually were the terms of this agreement? Is it not a fact that, under the terms of the agreement, this country gave up the right to veto the use of the atomic bomb by the United States of America and that there fore our finger is no longer on the safety catch?

Order, order. I must ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to try to ask his question succinctly.

Just two more little teasers, if I may, Sir. [Interruption.] Order. Was this right given away in return for American aid, and is there any means whereby the people of this country can know exactly what rights were given away in order to obtain money with which to finance the Socialist experiment?

I am afraid that there was so much spontaneous barracking and disorder that I could not gather the full import of the question.

Commonwealth Prime Ministers (Consultations)

46.

asked the Prime Minister if he has considered the desirability of calling a Commonwealth conference after the termination of the Geneva Conference to deal with the possibility of common action in respect of the then world situation and also with internal Commonwealth matters affecting its present and its potential membership.

This might take its place among matters to be considered after the Geneva Conference is over.

Whilst thanking the Prime Minister for that reply, may I ask if he could be a little more positive and suggest that it will probably take place?

Can the Prime Minister say what message was sent by the Foreign Secretary to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers at Colombo regarding the part they might play in any settlement of the Indo-China dispute, and what reply was received from the Prime Ministers?

To give those detailed statements and quotations, which have nothing to do with the Question placed upon the Paper, I think I might have the advantage of notice.

I do not know why the Prime Minister should be so upset by this question. There is a great deal of speculation in the Press about an extremely important matter, namely, the part that may be played by the Asian members of the Commonwealth in the settlement of the Indo-China dispute. [An HON. MEMBER: "Put a Question down."] It follows from the Question on the Order Paper. All I am asking the Prime Minister is to tell us, first, was such a message sent by the Foreign Secretary and, secondly, could he not give us the general gist of the reply at any rate, even if he does not quote it word for word?

No, Sir. I should like to have notice on the Paper and then I can give an accurate and full reply.

Does the Prime Minister not remember that this House recently expressed itself in favour of a conference such as that indicated in the original Question, and will he not respect that expression and take steps to implement it?

I am not prejudging anything. I am only saying that we had better wait until the Conference is over and then take stock of the whole position.

Will the Prime Minister remember that all the self-governing members of the Common wealth are now intimately concerned, and have declared themselves to be concerned, in the world questions with which we are faced, and that in the past consultation with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers has always been of great advantage to all concerned?