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National Finance

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 11 May 1954

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Mutual Security Aid (Lard Purchases)

2.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what inter-Departmental discussions take place before a decision is made on what amount of the dollars allocated by the United States Government under their Mutual Security Act programme is to be spent on lard.

Discussions have taken place primarily between the Treasury and Ministry of Food. An essential factor to be considered is, of course, how much the U.S. Government is prepared to allocate for the commodity.

Will the Chancellor bear in mind that the history of the Indian Mutiny shows how serious a matter this can be? Will he point out to the Minister of Food that the price of lard is considerably increased by the amount that we have to spend on arms in order to get it?

I will bear in mind all the historical parallels and analogies brought forward by the hon. Member. I would also remind him of the importance of tea in Anglo-American relations.

Sterling (Convertibility)

3.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in view of the strength of sterling in the foreign exchange market, if he will now take steps to make sterling freely convertible.

We continue working towards the necessary preconditions for sterling convertibility as set out in the Communiqué of the Commonwealth Economic Conference in 1952.

Instead of expressing pious hopes about this matter elsewhere, will my right hon. Friend give a courageous lead to the world, as our forefathers did, and make sterling freely convertible tomorrow morning as the biggest contribution possible to world recovery and prosperity?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall give a sensible lead. Whether it will be thought to be courageous or not, I cannot say.

New Capital Issues, Scotland

4.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the total of new issues approved by the Capital Issues Committee for industry and investment companies operating in Scotland as a whole and in the seven crofting counties separately.

In view of the urgent need for industrial development, particularly in the North of Scotland, can my right hon. Friend advise whether there is any method of tapping the immense resources of the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation, which was conceived and originated in Scotland with Scottish money for the purposes of Scottish reconstruction and rehabilitation?

We are all well aware of the importance of Scottish money. My difficulty is in differentiating between money raised in Scotland and money raised in England when approval is sought from Capital Issues Committee. That presents an almost insoluble problem. I certainly wish to support the investment of money in the areas to which my noble Friend has referred.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information that real enterprise in the North of Scotland has been refused assistance by the Capital Issues Committee?

Local Authority Loans (Conditions)

7.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent discussions he has had with local authorities about the conditions of borrowing from the Public Works Loans Board; and whether he will now take steps to remove some of the more inconvenient conditions.

Arrangements are being made for a meeting at an early date with the Standing Committee of local authorities in order to discuss the conditions of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board. I cannot make a further statement until these discussions have been completed.

Will the Chancellor bear in mind that some local authorities have a ready market for borrowing privately on their own doorsteps but that others have not, and that it is most desirable to remove some of the inconveniences for such authorities so that they can borrow their money on not much less favourable terms than some of the bigger and more powerful authorities?

We have always had in mind the need to differentiate between one authority and another in regard to the facilities which they have for borrowing and their needs. That is why I referred to the importance of holding the meeting with the Standing Committee.

8.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take steps to remove the present restrictions on local authorities that they may not borrow money for periods of less than seven years, and return to them their pre-war right to negotiate short-term loans.

Does not the Chancellor think that the time is now appropriate to reconsider the matter? If he will not consider removing the restriction in relation to the seven-year period, will he at an early date consider reducing the period to three years or even five years?

The hon. Member asked me a Question on this subject on 19th May, 1953. I am sorry not to have a different opinion from the one I had then on this issue.

11.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what arrangements have been made to enable local authorities to borrow from the Public Works Loan Board for less than the full period of the Departmental sanction.

I have agreed in principle that the Public Works Loan Board should make loans for less than the full period of the Departmental sanction in all but certain types of case in which the making of such loans would increase the amount of annual grant payable by Government Departments. A meeting is being arranged at an early date between my officials and the Standing Committee of local authorities to make detailed arrangements. I cannot make a further statement until these discussions have been completed.

Is there any chance of these long discussions being brought to a conclusion? The matter has been dragging on for many months now. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, if local authorities could borrow from the Public Works Loan Board for less than the 60-year period, it would save anything from 3s. to 4s. per week per local-authority dwelling?

We actually proposed a meeting of this Standing Committee a little while ago at the end of last year, and it was then suggested that we should defer it until some other matters came up which could be settled at the same time. That is why another meeting is foreshadowed, after which I hope to be able to say more.

Roumanian And Hungarian Assets (Claims)

9.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is yet in a position to make a statement about the distribution of Roumanian and Hungarian assets held by the Custodian of Enemy Property.

The Treasury direction is being drafted as quickly as possible. I can add no more to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary on 15th April.

Can my right hon. Friend state why, nearly four weeks ago, the Economic Secretary said that the whole thing was pretty well cleared up and it was only a question of weeks, and yet it seems to go on indefinitely?

The Highlands And North Wales (Assistance)

12.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in view of the increase in population of about 25 per cent, since 1946 in both the Isle of Man, and in Jersey, where the rates of taxes are considerably lower than the rest of the British Isles, and in view of the persistent depopulation of North Wales and the Highlands of Scotland during the same period, despite the many measures taken to help these areas, he will consider remission of Purchase Tax or any other form of central fiscal arrangement whereby the latter areas can attain the same degree of prosperity presently enjoyed by the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Why cannot the great power of the Treasury be used imaginatively to restore life and prosperity to remote areas and so to strengthen the entire economy of the United Kingdom?

It is impossible to treat the areas to which my hon. Friend refers in the same way as the population of the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands are treated to achieve a particular situation vis-à-vis their geography and constitution. I do not think that the situation is quite so bad in the areas to which my hon. Friend has referred as he makes out. We are always anxious to do our best to improve conditions there.

Profits And Wages

13, 14 and 15.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) the United Kingdom net trading profits, including stock appreciation, in 1948 and each year to 1953; and what was the percentage rise from 1948 to 1953;

(2) the net profits of public corporations, including stock appreciation, in 1948 and each year to 1953; what was the percentage rise from 1948 to 1953, given separately; and what was the percentage rise from 1948 to 1953 for companies and corporations combined;

(3) what was the rise of wages from 1948 to 1953; and what was the percentage rise.

As these Questions involve tables and figures, I will, with permission, take them together and circulate the answer in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is the Chancellor aware that the net profits, as indicated in Cmd. Paper No. 9118, rose from £970 million in 1948 to £1,374 million in 1953, an increase of 42 percent.; that wages only increase by 38 per cent, in that period, from £4,140 million to £5,736 million; that in 1950 the wage rise over 1948 was only 10 percent, against the rise in profits of 38 percent., and that in 1951 a rise of 23 percent, in wages against a 40 percent, rise in profits, and that in addition dividends and interest had risen 30 percent, in money income, as shown in the Government publication, Cmd. Paper No. 9118?

The hon. Member seems to be conveying information rather than asking for it.

If the Minister cares to-give an answer to three Questions in one, surely I am entitled, having put three Question, to have at least a longer supplementary question?

The hon. Member seems to be asking one very long question. If he will ask his three questions shortly I would not object.

Because of this very unsatisfactory answer, I shall try to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Following is the answer:

(1) Gross trading profits (including stock appreciation) of companies, public corporations and other public enterprises in the United Kingdom in:—£ million
19482,048
19492,144
19502,505
19512,919
19522,582
19532,798
The figure for 1953 is 37 per cent, higher than that for 1948.

(2) Gross trading surplus (including stock appreciation) of public corporations in the United Kingdom in:—
1948121
1949160
1950199
1951255
1952273
1953302
The figure for 1953 is 150 per cent, higher than that for 1948.
(3) The total paid in wages in 1948 was £4,140 million, and in 1953 £5,740 million—an increase of 39 per cent.

NOTES:

(a) All these figures are necessarily estimated, and most have been published in Preliminary Estimates of National Income and Expenditure, 1948–1953 (Cmd. 9118).

(b) The figures for trading profits and surpluses are given gross (i.e., before deduction of provision for depreciation) for the reasons given in National Income and Expenditure 1946–1952 (H.M.S.O., August 1953) on page 95.

(c) The scope of the classification "public corporations" changed between 1948 and 1953, the most important changes being caused by the nationalisation of gas (1st May, 1949) and steel (15th February, 1951).

Civil Service (Pensions Scheme)

10.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why there is no contributory superannuation system in the Civil Service; and whether, in view of the reports of the Tomlin Commission and the Chorley Committee, he will now examine the possibility of introducing one.

The decision not to proceed with the proposals of the Tomlin Commission for changing from a non-contributory to a contributory system was taken by the Government of the day following a recommendation of the Civil Service National Whitley Council in 1934. The objects the Chorley Committee had in mind have been achieved within the non-contributory system. The present system works well, and I see no reason to consider altering it. The Civil Service widows and dependants pensions schemes introduced by the Superannuation Act, 1949, are contributory.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the teachers resent that they have to pay superannuation contributions while the Civil Service does not; and secondly, does he not think that a contributory superannuation scheme for the Civil Service might well save him and the taxpayer money?

For reasons I have set out in my answer, I see no reason to alter the situation. In order to give a fuller answer about the teachers, I should want more scope than in Question and answer. If my hon. and gallant Friend will await a suitable opportunity, perhaps I can enlighten him.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept it from me that the teachers have no grievance against the Civil Service having a non-contributory scheme?

I feel that the right hon. Gentleman speaks as well for the teachers as any other Member of the House, and I shall note his observations.

Air Pollution Committee (Report)

16.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what further progress has been made by the Air Pollution Committee; and how many times the committee has met since 1st January, 1954.

:The Committee is making rapid progress and expects to present a further report before the end of the summer. I understand that it has held a great many meetings, but the conduct of its business is its own affair.

This inquiry is in respect of December, 1952. As many meetings have been held and much advice has been given, is the Minister not yet in a position to take action in this very important matter?

I am awaiting a further report, which I hope will not be too long delayed.