Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 11 May 1954

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

House Of Commons

Tuesday, 11th May, 1954

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Cost Of Living (Maybole Council Resolution)

1.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what reply he has sent to the recent resolution sent him by Maybole Town Council on the question of the cost of living.

I am sending the hon. Member a copy of my reply.

National Finance

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.

Housing

Council Houses, Middleton (A V Roe Employees)

17.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he has now completed his inquiries into the letting of municipally-built council houses at Middleton, Lancashire, and into the allegation that Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited have offered to prospective employees a house tied to the job and have obtained the signatures of such workers to a tenancy agreement stating that the house is so tied.

Is the Minister aware that he did not do anything of the kind? He wrote to me about a quite different matter, quite irrelevant to the Question I have put? Can he say, after four months' investigation, whether it is not a fact that Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited are offering council houses to their workers, stipulating that they are tied to the job and that the workers must sign a contract for the council houses? Does he approve of that? Is the Minister going to do anything about it?

I am satisfied that the lettings to the company's key workers cannot be called "tied" in any sense of the word.

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

Oakengates

18.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he has considered the letter, dated 27th April, from Oakengates Urban District Council to his Birmingham regional office protesting against his limitation of new dwellings, both local authority and private enterprise, during 1954 to 118; and if he will enable the council to prepare their planned programme of housing and slum clearance by an immediate relaxation of the notified maximum of 118 for 1954, or of the number permitted for 1955 and 1956, since the 1954 limit of 118 will produce an inevitable suspension of building before the end of 1954 and a resumption some time after the commencement of 1955.

The council now have in hand more houses than they have completed in any year since the war, and their completions this year should also be a record. Their current programme will leave some work for them to carry over into next year, but I will bear in mind the council's representations in determining what should be their programme for 1955.

While thanking the Minister for that answer, I would ask him if he is aware that it will take many more years of record house-building to solve the housing problem in this particular part? May I further ask him to bear in mind the almost insuperable difficulty in which the council will be placed if the maximum number of houses which the right hon. Gentleman has fixed for this year, namely, 118, is completed two or three months before the end of the year and the council are not aware of the number to be permitted for next year so as to make the necessary arrangements to prevent a gap?

Oh, yes, I quite understand that point. These are the figures up to the present: In the year of grace 1951 the completions were 25; in 1952 they were 53; in 1953 they were 97, and in 1954 the council will complete 118, about five times the number nearly three years ago. If there should be some possibility of increasing allocations towards the end of the summer, I shall be in touch with the council to make sure that they have plenty of work for the 1955 programme.

Rates And Taxes (Collection)

22.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to amendment of the law so that where the owner of a dwelling let on a weekly tenancy is a defaulter to the rating authority or the Inland Revenue and payment of rent is diverted to these bodies, the housing department of the local authority shall be established as the agent for both bodies for the collection of the money in equal weekly amounts.

I understand that in practice arrangements are always made between the Inland Revenue and the rating authority for sharing the rent. If the hon. Member has any particular case in mind, I would gladly discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

Is the Minister aware that this is worth a little attention, and that cases do arise where hardship is caused? It is perfectly true that the money is shared between the Inland Revenue and the rating authority, but the hardship arises through people being suddenly called upon to pay large sums of money. Because of the fault of the landlord, they should not be put into a more difficult position than if called upon weekly by a housing authority.

If the hon. Member would care to discuss it with me, I should be very glad to do so.

House Purchase (Improved Facilities)

24.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, in view of the heavy professional charges, legal, valuation and architectural, involved when purchasing land or houses and the necessity to increase house purchase by people of moderate means, he will take the necessary steps to reduce the burden of professional charges on such transactions.

I am aware that these charges make a significant addition to the amount which the mortgagor must find as deposit, but necessary professional services have got to be paid for. The arrangements I announced to the House last week should help greatly to reduce the initial outlay required from the purchaser.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these professional fees are charged on a percentage basis, that building costs generally, and land in particular, have gone up about three or four times and that these professional charges have likewise increased and form a very substantial burden these days?

There is, of course, very great variation in the amount of work to be done in these cases. There are variations, for instance, in regard to whether the land is registered or not, whether the search for title is difficult or not, whether the property is bought from a council estate and so on. Therefore, while I am trying hard to get these further reductions, one cannot have a flat rate basis because of those great variations. One has to try to get an average as the basis.

Does the Minister agree that the professional charges are out of all relation to other charges, particularly in regard to building houses? If so, will he give further consideration to my hon. Friend's Question with regard to what action should be taken?

No, Sir. I would not agree with such a sweeping indictment as that in regard to those concerned. I think that, on the whole, the professions have helped in every way, and will help still more.

Is the Minister quite satisfied that when the purchase price of the house is high, the legal charges should go up in proportion? The public is not convinced that the legal work involved is proportionately greater.

We are doing our very best to get them reduced, but the charges are related, not merely to the cost, but to the amount of work which has to be done with regard to a number of points, such as, for instance, the question of title.

30.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what steps he proposes to take, by financial guarantee or otherwise, to make it possible for local housing authorities to make advances of up to 95 per cent, for house purchase under similar terms to those agreed with the building societies.

This would involve legislation. I would prefer first to try the effect of the arrangements I announced to the House last week, which involve no change in the present law.

Would not the Minister agree that the present position is rather invidious, where local authorities are asked to guarantee a proportion of the advances made by building societies whilst they themselves are not allowed to advance to the same extent? As he is dependent on the co-operation of local authorities, does he not think that, in the interests of his own scheme, it would be a good thing to get by legislation the powers he needs?

There are a lot of desirable things about which we could get legislation. If it came forward, I hope that it would command the same support from the hon. Gentleman, but he knows quite well that, at present, the obvious thing to do is to work within the powers already existing.

Is the Minister aware that a number of local authorities appear very chary about assisting him in his scheme with all its advantages, whilst they themselves are deprived of the powers mentioned in my Question?

Is the Minister not aware that local authorities are restricted under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act? Under his new circular they are, in fact, required to give guarantees to private enterprise out of public funds. Is it not really fair that they should at least be on an all-square footing with private enterprise?

I do not want to get drawn into an argument about this. I am sure the hon. Member will agree that if private and public effort can be combined to get the thing done without legislation, that is the first thing to do.

31.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how much less cash an intending house purchaser will have to find under his new scheme for a 95 per cent, advance on a post-1918 house, for a house costing £2,000, than he would have to find under the most advantageous systems already practised by building societies.

As their prospectuses show, the amount which building societies will lend varies with the circumstances of the individual application. But an advance of 85 percent, without other security besides the house would be exceptional; the normal advance is considerably lower. Thus, under the scheme referred to by the hon. Member, the cash to be found by the borrower would be reduced by at least £200.

Is the Minister aware that his new scheme does not cover legal costs? There is to be a 95 percent, advance, excluding legal costs. Is he not aware that some building societies already operate schemes whereby 90 percent, is advanced, including legal costs? In that case, the extra 5 percent, no more than makes up for the legal costs and his scheme is not all that much more advantageous.

Of course there can be variations and differences. I do not understand whether hon. Members who ask these questions are trying to denigrate the scheme or to assist it. I say that it is an advance and an attempt to improve the position.

I am not denigrating the scheme. All I am doing is pointing out that people can already get more help than they realise from certain building societies.

Local Government

Land, Chadwell Heath (Access)

19.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that permission has been given to use land fronting High Road and Ashton Gardens, Chadwell Heath, as a car sales display site, with the advice that it was desirable that access should not be made directly to the main road; and, since the only other access would be from Ashton Gardens, a purely residential road, whether he will reconsider his action.

Is the Minister aware that there is a good deal of feeling about this matter in the area?

Yes, but it is rather difficult for me to explain the matter by Question and answer—we should need a map of the district. If the hon. Gentleman cares to discuss it with me, I shall be very glad to meet him.

Rating Assessments

23.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in view of the fact that valuation officers are not to re-assess property for local authorities till 1956, what advice he has given to local authorities as to re-assessing properties for themselves in the meantime.

I have given no advice officially; but I would deprecate any such action by local authorities in advance of the re-valuation.

Would the right hon. Gentleman issue a statement to the Press, or by other means let the local authorities know their duty and the citizens their obligations? Because some of this is going on and causes much dissatisfaction.

Yes, Sir, but I have to tread very carefully because I have no powers except those of advice.

Withdean Sports Stadium, Brighton

25.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he will be in a position to make a decision concerning the erection at With dean, Brighton, of a stand to hold 1,500 persons and terraces to seat 3,000 people, the laying out of the stadium grounds for a Rugby football pitch, a cinder running track and also the making of facilities for jumping and other athletic events.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, unless it is done in the next week or two, it may well be impossible to lay the turf which would make it possible to provide Rugby football and other amenities towards the end of this year?

Stanmer Park Nursery, Brighton

26.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government his de cision concerning the granting of per mission for the development of a new nursery in Stanmer Park for the Parks and Gardens Department of the Brighton Corporation.

I have decided to approve this scheme and am informing the Corporation accordingly.

Does my right hon. Friend realise how pleased the Corporation will be? They will consider that this is a recognition on the part of the Minister of the very great beauty of the gardens at present. Is the Minister aware that this new allowance will make it far easier to make the gardens still more beautiful?

Smokeless Zones

27.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will prepare a regulation granting permissive powers to local authorities to establish smokeless zones, and thereby replace the present machinery of presenting a Private Bill before such zones can be set up.

Would the Minister look further at this to see if it is not possible to do something on the lines suggested? Is he aware that all local authorities would welcome this? Great interest is now being taken to try to prevent smoke pollution, and it is very necessary that local authorities should have some power in that regard. Is he aware that 3,645 tons of ash, grit, dirt, tarry matter and sulphur dioxide fell on Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1953? That is an average of 214 tons per acre, and it indicates the urgency of the problem. Will the Minister try to make it a little simpler for local authorities to adopt regulations?

Yes, Sir, but the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I that I have no statutory powers, that this requires legislation, that any question of legislation obviously has to await the report of the Beaver Committee, and that legislation has to take its chance with the claims of the many other things which this House is asked to do. I am only too anxious to help, but without legislation I have no power.

Can I take it that by that the Minister indicates his sympathy with this type of proposal, rather than that local authorities should have to promote Private Bills, and that when the opportunity presents itself he will endeavour to embrace this in a blanket formula?

Yes, Sir. I hope that my hon. Friend—if I may call him so in this matter—will try, if I should find it necessary to promote legislation, to facilitate its passage through the relevant Standing Committee.

Improvement Grants (Circular)

28.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will report on the number of local authorities who have resolved to make improvement grants for houses under the provisions of the Housing Act, 1949, with special reference to the response evoked by his Department's Circular 36/54 of 20th April, 1954.

It is early to say what action local authorities have taken in response to the circular, which was sent to them only three weeks ago. But I hope for speedy results in the form of an increasing number of schemes approved.

Does not the Minister consider it unhelpful that, since the issue of the circular, the borough of Southgate and the Middlesex County Council have rejected the opportunity to take advantage of these provisions? Would the Minister consider collating the information and make available some kind of progress report on the number of councils which adopt his suggestions?

I shall consider that last point and shall look for every help from the hon. Gentleman in promoting these schemes.

Land, Beachy Head (Use)

29.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware that a tract of open downland of about 50 acres in extent, situated between Beachy Head and Birling Gap, has been cleared and ploughed up; and, in view of the importance of this open space to Eastbourne and to the amenities of the South Downs generally, and in view of the fact that rights of way may be prejudiced, whether he will consult with the owners of this land, who are primarily Eastbourne Corporation, with a view to stopping further ploughing up.

I understand that this land, which is an Eastbourne Corporation farm, is being brought back into cultivation as it was before 1942, I have no power to intervene.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend knew this area as a child, but has he been there lately and seen how they are turning this land, which is rather useless from the agricultural point of view, into a productive farm, when it is one of the most beautiful amenities on the South Downs?

That may be so, but if this land was useless—growing little but bushes and so forth—and now is turned into valuable productive land, we have to balance that against the disadvantages the hon. Member mentions. I have, unfortunately, no powers to do anything about it.

Is the Minister aware that my constituents in Eastbourne have considerable confidence in the Corporation's ability to run its own affairs? I want to say, however, that the hon. Member did ask my permission to ask the Question.

Ministry Of Works

St James's Palace (Clock)

32.

asked the Minister of Works when the clock on the tower of St. James's Palace is to be reactivated.

My right hon. Friend hopes that the clock will be going again within five days.

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that when he does re-energise this clock he will also incite it to strike?

Will the hon. Member bear in mind that all the clubs in the neighbourhood will be exceedingly grateful to hear this announcement, in view of the difficulties they have had, for many years past, in deciding officially when closing time has come along?

Kensington Gardens (Motor Vehicles And Bicycles)

33.

asked the Minister of Works the classes of person authorised to use motor vehicles and bicycles, respectively, in Kensington Gardens.

Officers of the Ministry of Works and others on business are authorised to use motor vehicles and bicycles in the Gardens. Children's toy cycles are also allowed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Kensington Gardens is traditionally a place where children and dogs can run about, free from interference with traffic? Is he aware that policemen use their bicycles in Kensington Gardens, and will he do his best to reduce wheeled traffic there?

I am aware that Kensington Gardens should be kept as quiet as possible, but my hon. Friend will remember that the police have a station in the middle of the Gardens, and it is reasonable that officers proceeding to or from duty should be allowed to do so on bicycles.

Paris Embassy Kitchens (Improvements)

34.

asked the Minister of Works the total cost of work done recently, and to be done, on the kitchens of Her Majesty's Embassy in Paris.

The renovation and re-equipping of the kitchens at the Paris Embassy will cost £7,000.

Can the Minister say whether these kitchens proved very unsatisfactory, and, if so, for how long—or does this large expenditure mean that there has been a great increase of eating in this Embassy?

The kitchens were installed in 1895. They were completely antiquated, and their equipment was completely out of date. I was there 10 days ago, and I am quite sure that the improvements are worth while.

Is it not a fact that this improvement will probably save a lot of money?

Is the Minister aware that half the houses in Oldham were built before 1895, and that most of them have to make do without new kitchens?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Committee of Public Accounts has already expressed alarm about the proposed high expenditure undertaken in this and many other embassies? Will he not look into the matter, together with the Foreign Office, to see if some saving cannot be effected?

My hon. Friend touched on the real point, which is that the Embassy in Paris has to do a great deal of entertaining, and unless the kitchens are adequate for the purpose much work has to be put out to caterers. The cost of doing this in Paris is so high that I am certain we shall get our money back by making this improvement.

Fifty for lunch or dinner, and between 200 and 600 for cocktail parties.

Ancient Earthworks And Monuments (Preservation)

35.

asked the Minister of Works what action he is taking to preserve from destruction ancient earthworks and other monuments, particularly of Celtic and pre-Celtic origin, as a result of intensified agricultural and forestry operations.

I would refer the hon. Member to my reply on 4th May to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). My Department has arrangements with the Ministry of Agriculture and with the Forestry Commission for early consultation about safeguarding monuments, including earthworks threatened by agricultural development or re-afforestation schemes known to those Departments.

I take fully into account the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman to my hon. Friend, but will the Minister indicate when he expects the Ancient Monuments Board to report on this matter, which is now of some urgency?

Scotland

Fishing Industry (Grants)

39.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is yet in a position to make a further statement on the number of applications for grants which have been received and acceded to or refused under the two schemes, made by his Department last July, under the enabling powers in the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1953, especially the 19 applications to the White Fish Authority and the six applications to the Herring Board which were under consideration on 2nd February last and, of applications refused, the reacon in each case why each was refused.

As the reply involves a table of figures, I shall, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the purpose of the Act mentioned in the Question was to help the fishing industry and not to frustrate it? As the present administration of the Act is not at all satisfactory to the fishing industry, will the right hon. Gentleman alter it?

I agree that the Act is intended to help the industry, and a large percentage of applications has been approved. Under the White Fish Scheme, out of 84 applications 51 have been approved and 19 are under consideration, and the Herring Industry Board has had 60 applications, 45 of which have been approved and six of which are under consideration.

Following is the reply:

DISPOSAL OF APPLICATIONS FROM SCOTTISH FISHERMEN TO THE WHITE FISH AUTHORITY AND HERRING INDUSTRY BOARD FOR GRANTS FOR NEW BOATS AND NEW ENGINES AS AT 1ST MAY, 1954.
White Fish AuthorityHerring Industry Board
Applications (i.e. number of new boats and new engines)8460
Approved5145
Under consideration.196
Withdrawn62
Refused87

DISPOSAL OF THE APPLICATIONS UNDER CONSIDERATION ON 2ND FEBRUARY, 1954 (INCLUDED IN THE ABOVE TABLE).
White Fish AuthorityHerring Industry Board
Total196
Approved134
Still under consideration21
Withdrawn1
Refused31

I am informed that of the 15 applications refused 14 were refused because the applicants were unable to fulfil the requirements of paragraph 5 of the statutory schemes and one was refused under paragraph 9.

Legal Aid Fund (Grant In Aid)

40.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why the grant in aid of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Fund re quires £147,000 in 1954–55 as compared with £140,000 in 1953–54 and why pro vision is made in the Estimates that any balance of the sum issued which may remain unexpended at 31st March, 1955, will not be liable to surrender to the Exchequer.

The increase of £7,000 is due to the prospect of increased expenditure on solicitors' fees and outlays and, to a lesser extent, to an increase in administrative costs. As this is a grant in aid, it is exempt from the normal rule that balances of grants unspent at the end of the year must be surrendered to the Exchequer.

Can my right hon. Friend prophesy that if the expenditure does not increase next year he will be able to dispense with this additional Vote?

I cannot say whether it is likely to increase. That depends on how much use is made of the scheme.

House Purchase Facilities (Discussions)

41.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what new arrangements he is making to assist per sons of small resources to purchase houses; and how far these arrangements will apply to old houses as well as new ones.

59.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his plans for introducing a house-purchase plan for Scotland.

61.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give an assurance that the Scottish scheme for house-purchase will be no less favourable to prospective purchasers than that announced for England and Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary discussed the adoption of a scheme of this kind, concerning both new and existing houses, with representatives of the three local authority associations, on 2nd April, and negotiations with the building societies operating in Scotland are now proceeding. I shall make a statement on the outcome as soon as possible.

Is the Minister not aware that when the Minister of Housing and Local Government makes an important statement of this kind it throws the Press and other people in Scotland into confusion, because they do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will make a similar pronouncement in regard to Scotland? Cannot the Minister arrange at least for simultaneous statements to clear up the question of what is to be done in one country and what is to be done in the other?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would have been advantageous to do this, but owing to the negotiations which are now going on with the building societies in Scotland—where a large number of English building societies also operate—I was not in a position to make a statement. I hope to be able to do so shortly.

Will my right hon. Friend, specifically in answer to my Question No. 61, reassure the House that the scheme will be no less favourable to prospective house purchasers in Scotland than it is to those in England and Wales?

I trust that will be the case. So far as I possibly can give my hon. and gallant Friend an assurance to that effect, I am glad to do so, but, as he knows, there are differences in law and rating between Scotland and England.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he was not taken by surprise when the Minister made this statement last week and that the Government as a whole, not Ministers on their own, have been considering the problem?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, for the very good reason that I stated in my original answer that the Joint Under-Secretary of State—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which one?"]—my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) —started discussions on 2nd April, and the Minister of Housing and Local Government made his statement on 4th May.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a report on his files from the Central Advisory Committee set up by one of his predecessors on the whole subject of house purchase in Scotland? Will he make himself familiar with the recommendations of that Committee, and will he further take into consideration the difference between Scotland and England in regard to rating, so that Scottish houseowners will not be prejudiced?

I have just referred to the difference between Scotland and England in regard to rating. As to the general principle, it would help me a great deal to know that the party opposite did welcome house ownership.

School-Crossing Patrols (Cost)

42.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why the estimate for school-crossing patrols of £20,000 for 1953–54 has risen to £35,000 for 1954–55; and if he will make it a condition that grants will only be paid when persons employed in this service are partially in capacitated or over 65 years of age.

The increase is mainly due to a transfer of responsibility for this service in a number of areas from the education authorities, who were assisted by education grant, to the authorities under the School Crossing Patrols Act, 1953, who receive grant from the Scottish Home Department. As regards the second part of the Question, I think that appointments are best left to the discretion of the local authorities.

Scottish Estimates (Miscellaneous Services)

43.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why the estimate for 1953–54 for miscellaneous services arising out of the war of £15,000 is estimated for 1954–55 at the same amount; and if this item will disappear from the Estimate after the current year.

This provision is required to enable me to meet claims for reimbursement of the cost of removing temporary defence works where that course is essential in the public interest. Such claims are still being received, and I expect a further sum will be required next year.

Glasgow Development Plan

44.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland on what date Glasgow development plan was submitted; what are the outstanding obstacles to his approving the plan; and when it is anticipated that the plan will be approved.

The Glasgow Development Plan was submitted on 1st January, 1952, and was approved with modifications on 7th May, 1954. Consideration of the plan took considerable time in view of the many objections received, the length of the public inquiry and the need to consult other Government Departments on the important issues involved.

Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate that he approved the plan subject to extensive alterations or minor alterations, as has been suggested?

It is difficult for me to deal now with all these objections and how they were handled, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it has not taken an unduly long time. There were a very great number of objections to be considered—233 in all.

Since the important feature of this development plan is the construction of the Whiteinch—Linthouse Tunnel, will the right hon. Gentleman consult with the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and urge him to make a start with that important project?

I hope that it will be started very shortly. I am aware of the Minister's recent statement on the subject. We are very anxious to proceed.

Thermo-Nuclear Explosions (Shipping Restrictions)

45.

asked the Prime Minister to what extent the present practice of sealing-off an area of sea for the purpose of a thermo-nuclear explosion conflicts with Her Majesty's Government's policy of preserving the freedom of the seas; and what action is proposed to be taken to restore freedom of navigation.

Only the area of territorial waters round the atolls and islands where the United States thermo-nuclear explosions took place is closed to shipping. A wider area of sea is notified as dangerous to shipping for a limited period, but not closed. It has never been considered a violation of the freedom of the seas to use areas outside territorial waters temporarily for gunnery and bombing practice, but when shipping is about to enter a danger area it has been warned off, and, if necessary, escorted to safe waters. For the British test in Australia a danger area of about 25,000 square miles was prescribed. The United States action does not run contrary, therefore, to our own policy, or with the principle on which we notify areas as dangerous to shipping. No action by Her Majesty's Government is, therefore, contemplated.

Yes, but in view of the erection of this thermo-nuclear curtain in the once Pacific Ocean, the exclusion of Britain from the A.N.Z.U.S. Pact, the decision of America to finance a new Japanese fleet, and the closing of the seas around the Bahamas for bacteriological warfare research, would the right hon. Gentleman now consider adopting the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and issue a White Paper containing a new and annotated edition of "Rule Britannia" indicating with precision in which way Her Majesty's Government now rule the waves?

Ministries Of Food And Agriculture (Future)

46.

asked the Prime Minister if he will now state when he hopes to close down the Ministries of Food and Agriculture.

As I have several times stated, I am not yet prepared to make a final statement about the future of the Ministry of Food. I know of no intention and I certainly cherish no hope of closing down the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

—will my right hon. Friend, in the interests of national economy, close them both down as soon as possible?

I really doubt very much whether my hon. Friend carries the whole House with him in that suggestion.

Public Servants (Oath Of Allegiance)

47.

asked the Prime Minister if he will introduce legislation to require all persons engaged in the public services to take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty similar to that taken by hon. Members when they take their seats for the first time.

I am not aware of any sufficient reason for this change in long-established custom.

Would not the suggestion in this Question be some protection against Communist activities, which are much greater than anyone realises?

Geneva Conference (India, Ceylon And Pakistan)

48.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the message sent by the Foreign Secretary regarding the problem of Indo-China to the Prime Ministers of India. Pakistan and Ceylon during their recent meeting at Colombo; and whether he will also indicate the nature of the reply received.

I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the reply given to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) yesterday.

Would the Prime Minister say whether the message of the Foreign Secretary to the Asian Prime Ministers was confined to the under- writing of a settlement of Indo-China or also related to the wider issue of some collective security arrangements in South-East Asia?

No, Sir, I am afraid I could not undertake to do that without careful and specific examination of the message.

Would the right hon Gentleman, perhaps, give it careful and specific examination, and would he also appreciate that many rumours are being published in the Press about this and the reply? Would it not be desirable to clear up the matter by a statement at the earliest possible moment?

Se Asia (Defence)

51.

asked the Prime Minister what progress has been made towards forming an alliance of, and with. South-East Asian countries.

I have nothing to add to the reply given yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to Questions on this subject.

Surely the Prime Minister can do something to clear up the confusion which now exists? Does he not know that in Washington they think that considerable progress has been made and that in London they think that none whatever has been made? Can he not say something about this?

No, Sir. I was not aware of any confusion on the subject. If that is my impression, I might only do harm by entering into the discussion.

Yesterday the Minister of State said in the House that discussions were not taking place on this matter, but he said that conversations were taking place. This morning "The Times" reports that discussions have taken place with the New Zealand, Australian, British and Siam ambassadors in Washington. Will the right hon. Gentleman issue a glossary of international diplomatic terms to enable us to decide what is the difference between conversations, discussions, negotiations and talks?

After all, a Government lasts only for the period of a quinquennial Parliament, and the glossary of diplomatic terms has grown up by usage and practice, and Parliamentary practice, over a very long period. We should think very carefully before we attempt to tie our hands in a rigid fashion in these matters.

Is the Prime Minister aware that on 28th April the acting Minister of External Affairs in New Zealand said that, in addition, 10 countries, including the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, had agreed to take part in talks aimed at establishing an effective defence of that region, namely, South-East Asia? Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether what the acting Minister of External Affairs in Australia said was true or untrue?

Was it the acting Minister of External Affairs of New Zealand or Australia?

National Service (Period)

49.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the Belgian Government are proposing to reduce the period of conscription to 18 months and that the United States Government are considering a reduction to six months; and, as both these governments are associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, whether he will now consider an early reduction in the length of National Service.

I am aware of the proposals of the Belgian Government to effect a reduction in their period of whole-time national service from 21 to 18 months. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in suggesting that the United States Government are considering a reduction to six months' whole-time service. I would refer him to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence on 4th May on this point. Our own period of National Service must be determined by our own requirements, but, as was said in this year's statement on Defence, the Government are keeping the question under review.

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's regard for standardisation in military matters, how does he continue to justify this variation among the N.A.T.O. countries? In view of the decision of the Belgian Government, which arises out of a general election, why does he delay putting into operation the change in the conditions of National Service which, he must know very well, are inevitable?

The reason for the delay is that we did not think that it was desirable at the present time and we did not think that we could conduct the many varied overseas commitments which have fallen upon us for one cause and another with a shorter period of service and the consequent increased difficulty in making the reliefs.

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is reported that the Belgian Minister of Defence stated that the reduction of the period to 18 months would not prejudice the strength and effectiveness of the Belgian Armed Forces? In those circumstances, will he instruct his Minister of Defence to find out something about the Belgian proposals and submit them to us so that we can see whether the British Armed Forces can be so reduced?

I can give an answer to that at once. It would certainly cause us the very greatest inconvenience and difficulty in the maintenance of our existing responsibilities and would do great injury to the quality and character of our Armed Forces.

Would the Prime Minister please take note of one of the leaders in "The Times" yesterday which indicated a change of opinion on the part of that very reputable newspaper? Why is he so sticky about this matter? Why does he not reconsider the whole position, or hold an inquiry into it?

I hardly think it would be possible to do anything more unwise or ill-judged than to reduce the period of service at the present moment. It is not a case of all countries being standardised. All countries are not standardised in their commitments. In fact, there are as many different commitments per country as individuals have different qualities.

Hydrogen Bomb (Resolution)

50.

asked the Prime Minister what steps he proposes to take to implement the unanimous request of the House of Commons that the Government should take immediately the initiative in arranging a meeting of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the purpose of removing from the peoples of the world the fear that now oppresses them.

I presume the hon. Member is referring to the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition moved on 5th April. We accepted that Motion on the express understanding that the word "immediate" did not commit us to action at an unsuitable time.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, while speakers on his side attempted to make that reservation before the vote was taken, the reservation was specifically rejected by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. Friends of mine, and that, although the reservation had been rejected, the House unanimously adopted the Motion? Will he also bear in mind that the main proposal of my right hon. Friend, that the heads of these three nations should meet, was his own proposal almost a year ago? Has he abandoned his faith in an idea which is shared very largely in this country and very largely throughout the world?

What I said about "immediate" was this:

"We shall not divide against this Motion provided that it is clearly understood that the word 'immediate' does not commit us to action at an unsuitable time or lead only to courting a polite deadlock or even providing a refusal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 58.]
I believe I said "procuring a refusal."

Can the Prime Minister give any reasons for thinking that the present is not a suitable time for making that proposal having regard to all the events which have happened since he first made the proposal 12 months ago?

Nothing would be easier than to make the proposal and have it rejected. I have not at all changed my opinion. I remain of exactly the same opinion.

Government Departments (Honorary Pros)

52.

asked the Prime Minister in which Government Departments persons engaged on public relations are serving in an honorary capacity; and to what extent his authority is required before such appointments are made.

The authority of the Prime Minister has not hitherto been specifically required for individual appointments, whether paid or honorary, on public relations work. They fall within the sphere of Departmental administration. I have had inquiries made of the major Departments and understand that two of them, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the War Office, have persons serving full-time in an honorary capacity on public relations work. The Colonial Office has two part-time honorary officers on this work.

Can the Prime Minister state why it has been necessary particularly to pick out the Ministry of Transport to appoint a public relations man to serve in an honorary capacity? What is the reason why that Ministry should be so treated?

I have been more concerned in my life with paid than honorary appointments. I am bound to say that I think this raises a point of interest. I will see that it is generally considered.

While I follow the point about the saving of public money, is the Prime Minister aware that it may be open to objection and abuse that persons in an honorary capacity, possibly political friends of the Minister concerned, should be brought in to do public relations work which ought to be impartial? Would he at any rate be good enough to circulate with the reply the names and particulars of these temporary officers who are being employed in the Department to which he has referred?

Yes, Sir. I think the House has every right to all information about all appointments, whether they are paid or honorary.

Atomic Energy (Quebec Agreement)

53.

asked the Prime Minister if he will consult the United States Government with a view to the publication of the terms of the 1948 agreement between our two countries.

I have nothing to add to the replies I gave on Tuesday, 27th April, and Tuesday, 4th May. Perhaps I ought to warn my hon. and gallant Friend that he is treading on dangerous ground in his supplementary questions and that there is a highly sensitive state of feeling on this topic on the benches opposite.

How can the people of this country ever find out the way in which Great Britain may have been sold down the river by the Socialist Government in return for American aid? Is that the reason why the Leader of the Opposition does not ask my right hon. Friend to publish the terms of this treaty?

Anglo-German Discussions (Trade And Finance)

(by Private Notice) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has any statement to make in regard to his recent conversations with the West German Government.

On a point of order. Would you kindly advise the House, Mr. Speaker, what is the procedure when a similar Question appears on the Order Paper? I thought you ruled the other day that Private Notice Questions are not to be accepted. I do not want to prejudice the information being given, but I think we should have some consistency.

I was not aware that another Question was on the Paper; I must have overlooked it. Otherwise I should not have allowed this in the form of a Private Notice Question. I should instead have asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he so desired, to make a statement. If there is another Question on the Order Paper, it is purely an oversight that the Question has been allowed in this form.

I had a series of frank and friendly discussions with the German Ministers concerned with economic and financial questions and a general conversation on the problems affecting our two countries with the Federal Chancellor. I found that the views of the German Government on these important subjects were close to our own. We were thus able to establish a basis of common interest and understanding on which to build in the future.

There was full agreement between us on the objective of securing an expansion of world trade by moving forward towards a freer system of trade and payments. It was in this spirit that we reviewed the discussions that had taken place in O.E.E.C. about the extension of E.P.U. We were also able to agree in outline the bilateral arrangements under which we might settle part of our E.P.U. debt.

I also hope that as a result of our exchange of views progress may very shortly be made with the removal of artificial incentives to exporters, both in the trade affecting our two countries and in the general framework of the O.E.E.C.

We had a very useful discussion about the problems involved in a return to convertibility, and about the establishment of satisfactory world trading conditions on which the successful achievement of convertibility—we were fully agreed on this—must depend. These matters will, of course, be carried forward under the arrangements made at the O.E.E.C. Council for a special Ministerial Group to examine these problems and their European aspects. But I am sure that these wider discussions will be all the more fruitful if there is a common approach by Germany and the United Kingdom.

In the course of these discussions, which touched upon our debt to the European Payments Union, was there also brought into the picture the repayment of Germany's debt to us, which was negotiated under very different conditions? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether in the circumstances he now anticipates that the European Payments Union will continue with the present rules for at least another year?

The answer to the first part of the question is, "Yes, Sir," but I do not think it will be necessary to revise the terms and conditions of the London understanding of 6th December. 1951. It did, however, come fully into the discussions. The answer to the second part of the question is also, "Yes, Sir." It is almost certain—in fact, it was agreed—that the European Payments Union should be continued for another year. The reason that I do not give an absolutely final answer is that the matter was referred by Ministers of the European countries to the managing board of the official council for final ratification.

How is it proposed in the future to reduce the wide unbalance between Germany and this country? Is it proposed that Germany should import more, that a better settlement should be made of debts owing to this country on various grounds, or that a larger amount of currency should be disbursed so that these debts can not only be paid off quicker, but that the unbalance should right itself?

The unbalance refers to the wider question of West Germany's surplus within the European Payments Union in general. We heard statements from the German Ministers about their intention so to regulate their affairs that it was hoped that their surplus would not put them too much out of balance with the other countries. In this respect, the right hon. Member's reference to a greater import programme for Germany came prominently into the picture. That may be helped by the Finance Minister's recent proposals, which involve an increase in consumption within Germany. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, is on the right lines.

As regards the bilateral negotiations on our debt vis-à-vis the West German Government, this must be regulated on the basis of a term of years under the O.E.E.C. general agreement, which, I hope, can be balanced in some way by the return debt which we have on the other side.

In view of the importance of maintaining employment in this country and also of maintaining employment in Germany for internal political reasons, can my right hon. Friend say whether the subject of employment was discussed in the course of the discussions on industrial policy?

It was, naturally, discussed, and in so far as our conversations may result, as I believe they will, in the removal of the export incentives which are imposed by the other side, that will improve our export chances and, therefore, our employment chances in this country.

Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer a firm assurance from the West German Government that they will cease the practice of hidden subsidies to their exporters? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot get agreement with them on these lines, how long is he to wait before he gives our own industries the like type of preference that the Germans are getting?

I cannot speak for the West German Government, who must announce their own policy; that is why I cannot go further today. But I should not have gone as far as I did in saying that we were on the eve of reaching an agreement—I hope, an agreement endorsed within the general European framework—if I were not aware that the intention of the German Government was to free rather than to restrict their export effort and to do away with these practices.