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Commons Chamber

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 20 July 1954

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 20th July, 1954

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Local Government

Planning Appeals And Compulsory Purchase Orders


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the effect of the measures taken to shorten the time for decisions in planning appeals and compulsory purchase orders; and whether he is now satisfied with the position in regard to this matter.

With regard to compulsory purchase orders I think there has been no general difficulty. Their number is, in any case, falling. So far as planning appeals are concerned, about 60 per cent. more cases have been disposed of during the first half of this year than in the corresponding period in 1953; while the average time taken on each case has been slowly falling over the past few months. The number of appeals received is, however, still continuing at a very high level. I am watching the position carefully.

Will the Minister undertake to continue these satisfactory efforts and to give the decisions as speedily as is compatible with full justice to the parties?

Water Supplies, Anglesey


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what steps he is taking to assist the Anglesey County Council to accelerate the progress of the county water scheme, in view of the fact that only 15 per cent. of the farmers in the county have a piped water supply.

The county council were notified on 10th July last that the grant awarded under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Acts, 1944 to 1951, had been increased to £400,000. I shall be glad to give the county council such assistance as I can to complete the scheme if they will tell me what further help they want.

Is the Minister aware, apart from what he has said, that the rate burden on the county council still remains crippling and that the figures for purposes connected with piped water supply are still very low? Does he not consider, from the point of view of agriculture and other amenities, that the Anglesey community should have a piped water supply, and can he give further assistance to the county council in this important matter?

I shall keep all that in mind, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will admit that this is a good decision and a large grant.


A V Roe & Co, Middleton (Agreement)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the terms of his instructions with regard to the continuation of tenancies of Middleton, Lancashire, council houses, occupied by workers employed by Messrs. A. V. Roe, after such workers had ceased to be employed with that firm.

I have given no such instructions. The management of council houses is vested by statute in the council.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we now have a position in which tenants of council houses in Middleton are paying rent to the corporation and a rent to their employers—in some cases their former employers? In those circumstances, has not the time come for the right hon. Gentleman to interfere and find what the facts are?

Is the Minister aware that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich can look after these questions of local interest without the interference of hon. Members opposite? Secondly, is the Minister aware, or can he tell us, whether this arrangement was made with the knowledge and authority of the Socialist Government?

I do not want to be drawn into that matter, but negotiations have been going on for a long time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, first, that 7,000 workers of A. V. Roe are largely employed in Oldham, West; secondly, the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) has not raised his voice in this matter, although I have invited him to do so, over the last 12 months; and, thirdly, he has told me on more than one occasion that he is investigating the matter?


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that a collateral tenancy agreement is insisted upon between Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company and the tenant where council houses are let by the Middleton Council, Lancashire, to the company's employees; that this agreement contains a provision whereby a sum of 3s. 5d. is deducted from the employee's wages each week to reimburse the council for the amount of subsidy borne in the rates; that this is in derogation of the council's responsibilities and freedom of action under the Housing Act; and if he will cause further investigations to be made.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that 90 municipally-owned houses at Middleton, Lancashire, have been let to Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited on terms that they reimburse to the council the amount of the rate subsidy and provide tenants at the full rent; and what action he proposes to take.

No, Sir. If any such agreement exists between the company and its employees, it is not one in which I have any power to intervene.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he told me, in answer to Question No. 88 on Thursday last, that he was of opinion that this agreement was illegal, and, if the corporation has made an agreement which in the opinion of the Minister may be illegal, has not the time come when he should investigate it; and has not the time certainly come when he has ample evidence before him that the statements he made to me in a letter in January last and in a Parliamentary answer on 11th May were not founded on fact?

I think the hon. Member is confused. Question No. 4 refers to an agreement alleged to exist between Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company and its employees. I have never said that that agreement was illegal, nor was there any reference to me about it. It is not a matter with which I could have any concern. There is an agreement between Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company and the Middleton Town Council. It is on that that I expressed the opinion, on advice, that it was of doubtful legality. They are two quite separate issues.

As my Question refers to the agreement between Messrs. A. V. Roe on the one hand and the corporation on the other hand, and Messrs. Roe's employees, surely the right hon. Gentleman is being a little disingenuous when he says he knows nothing about it?

No, Sir. I have no power whatever to intervene in the agreement between the company and its employees. If I am not mistaken, the agreement between the borough council and the company is dealt with in a later Question. The two matters are quite separate.

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my Question. He is talking about power to interfere. My Question is whether he knew of this agreement or not?

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was answering Question No. 29 with my Question. He keeps on saying that that has nothing to do with the agreement, but it expressly refers to the agreement and to nothing else. It may be that by misunderstanding the right hon. Gentleman has answered the wrong Question with mine.

If I have not misunderstood the point, that may come on a later Question.

The right hon. Gentleman has not only not answered my Question but has made no attempt to answer it. Therefore, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that the Middleton Council, Lancashire, at their last meeting, decided to give notice to a tenant of a council house on the ground that his employment with Messrs. A. V. Roe had been terminated; and, in view of this evidence that the houses in question are tied, if he will reopen his investigation into the principle of these lettings.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many of the 90 houses built by the Middleton Corporation in pursuance of an agreement with Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited are now occupied by workers employed by the company on tenancies tied to their employment.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is satisfied that the 90 municipally-owned houses at Middleton, Lancashire, the subject of an agreement between the corporation and Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited are not tied houses.

I am aware that the council decided to terminate the tenancy granted to a former employee of Messrs. A. V. Roe Limited, who left his employment voluntarily. They think it would be wrong to allow the man to retain the tenancy now that the special circumstances in which he was given precedence over others for it no longer exist. I am satisfied that what has happened does not make these "tied" lettings since the council and not the company are in control of the houses.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report of the council meeting was to the effect that the council regarded this man as a model tenant but felt bound to turn him out under the "tied" clause in view of the agreement with Messrs. A. V. Roe? Is the Minister further aware that almost everyone in the district—with the exception of the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwick (Sir J. Barlow)—is alarmed and excited about this matter? In the circumstances, would he, if he is asked, consider receiving a deputation to go into the whole position which has arisen, in which a pregnant woman is faced with eviction from her home?

I am always willing to see hon. Members of this House, as they well know, and I shall be happy to meet the hon. Member immediately concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not interested."]—and other hon. Members who would like to discuss this matter with me.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government on what grounds he has advised the Middleton Borough Council that their agreement with Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited relating to 90 municipally-owned houses may be illegal.

I informed the council that I was advised that the agreement was of doubtful legality in some respects. However, this is a matter which in the last resort can only be resolved by the courts.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but is he aware that, while neither side of the House wishes to discourage new industries in any area, it will be a completely new and dangerous approach to have tied council houses for any industry in Britain? Will he tell us whether there are any other areas in Britain where this sort of thing is happening?

There has been a very long tradition since the war, under both Administrations, of trying to facilitate the housing of key workers and so forth in special industries. There may be dangers and difficulties involved, but this is the first instance of trouble that has come to my notice. Normally the matter has been amicably arranged. This sort of thing is of importance to industry, and it is equally important that there should be no sense of grievance or unfairness.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that similar arrangements have been made in many other places such as Bristol, Liverpool and Bolton and the Development Areas, and that they have been beneficial to the development of new industries?

Arrangements on similar lines have been made, but they are not precisely similar under the terms of the contract.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether the agreement between the Middleton Borough Council and Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited was submitted to his Department before its execution; and on what date his Department first received a copy of this agreement.

No, Sir. The council had no need to submit this agreement to me. It was executed on 2nd March, 1953, and a copy was first sent to my Department on 24th December, 1953.

Can we take it that the right hon. Gentleman has taken no action at all from December last until the present time and that he now admits that the agreement is of doubtful legality?

I take it to be my duty to respect as far as possible the autonomy of local authorities, and I believe that is the view of most hon. Members. I do not wish to interfere with them so long as they are carrying out their statutory duties. The point might arise, but not at this stage, as to whether they have done so. In that case, it will be the duty of my Department, if necessary, to take some action.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman has a duty to the ordinary citizen as well as to private enterprise? If he now admits that the agreement is of doubtful legality and that that was known to his Department over a year ago, ought he not to have done something about it?

It is not a question of any arrangement with the private company but of the rather complicated financial arrangements in connection with the housing subsidies.

Requisitioned Houses


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware that when requisitioned houses became vacant, some local authorities re-let them to fresh tenants instead of returning them to their rightful owners; and how long he will allow this practice to continue.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the First Interim Report of the Working Party on Requisitioned Properties in Use for Housing. This recommended that vacated requisitioned property should be released to its owner or used to release other requisitioned accommodation for which the owner's case for release seemed more compelling.

Is it not clear that the widespread power to requisition property is a very serious interference with the rights of property owners and should be used only in the event of some pressing and continuing emergency? Could not my right hon. Friend indicate a date by which all these properties may be returned to their rightful owners?

The power to requisition property is the subject of a later Question on the Order Paper. It has not been used on house property, so far as I know, since the war, except in the very special emergency of the floods last year where we had to use it on one or two occasions. The problem of dealing with a large number of families still living in requisitioned property is a very complex one. We are working hard on it and the local authorities have given us very great support. I hope that we shall be able to clear it up within a reasonable time.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to requisitioning houses of private persons.

The power to requisition unoccupied dwelling-houses is now exercised only in most exceptional circumstances, the last occasion being that of the floods early in 1953. As the Government have no wish to retain premises on requisition longer than is absolutely necessary, local authorities are under instruction to make the maximum possible reduction in their holdings of requisitioned properties.

Will the Minister please tell the House whether there is any appeal against requisitioning, and especially if there is an appeal to a traditional court of law where evidence can be taken on oath and the public and the Press admitted?

These properties were requisitioned in the war and during the blitz, and we are still faced with a very difficult problem. We still have some 70,000 properties which are mostly round about London and which accommodate a very large number of families. There has been a very substantial fall in the last few years from something like 100,000 to about 70,000.

Is not the Minister aware that such authorities as Hornchurch were very glad to take people from the bombed areas of London and accommodate them in requisitioned property; but that such authorities as Hornchurch are very unwilling to turn people out into the street so that the properties may be sold and people make money out of them?

I think that is rather a tendentious way of putting the question. I prefer to say that I try—and I think that every Government would try—to keep a balance in this very difficult matter, and to meet the claims of both sides.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will refrain from derequisitioning houses in cases where this would mean rendering the occupants homeless and where urgent cases on local authority housing lists would consequently be deprived of accommodation.

It is important that the requisitioning of houses under emergency powers should end as soon as possible. Local authorities may arrange for the owners of requisitioned houses to accept the present licensees as tenants, or buy or lease the houses.

Is the Minister aware that if he submits to the pressure of the hon. Gentlemen behind him it will mean that thousands of families will be put out on the streets, especially in London and our great cities? Therefore, to assist local authorities to purchase these dwellings where suitable, will he agree to extend the principle of subsidy to them to enable them to undertake the work?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We are considering all this in its wide aspects, and I hope to be able to make some proposals about it.



asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that some landlords are asking for increased rents from their tenants in anticipation of the operation of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill; and what action he proposes to take to protect tenants.

If the hon. Member will send me details of the cases. I will look into them. Tenants are already fully protected under the Rent Restrictions Acts against payments of rent in excess of that which is legally recoverable.

May I thank the Minister for offering to look into specific cases? May I ask him if he is aware that in poor working-class areas many tenants are receiving demands for increased rents and that they are not aware of their rights? Would not it be advisable for him to consider making a broadcast on the matter so that everybody will know what are their rights and what are the duties of landlords?

I am grateful for the suggestion. I think that the Question and answer today have helped. As soon as the Royal Assent is given to the Bill, which I think will be in a very few days, I propose to see that widespread information is put about as to the rights of tenants and landlords. If I can have permission, I should perhaps consider making a broadcast.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, who was looking specifically at me. I would only ask, if he makes a broadcast, that it should be very factual and not politically tendentious, as was the propaganda pamphlet on this Bill which was paid for by the taxpayers.

I will leave the right hon. Gentleman to settle that with his hon. Friend.

Annual Housing Programme


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government from what date he has decided that the annual maximum of 300,000 houses shall not be exceeded; and what steps he has taken to ensure that this maximum shall not be exceeded.

The total number of houses completed in any year depends partly or prior planning and partly on sufficient labour and materials being available. In addition, resources vary from region to region. While I have, therefore, had to take some steps to see that the programme does not get out of step, I do not attempt to control it within precise figures. I am hopeful that, with improving production, the total for this year will be at least as large as last year, and I am equally optimistic about 1955.

Is the Minister aware that his policy already denies to active housing authorities like the Lambeth Borough Council the same completion rate in 1955 as in the two previous years? Should not the right hon. Gentleman in those circumstances be a little more honest and admit that his so-called limit to expansion is really a cut in the housing programme, so far as the more active housing authorities are concerned, which is not being imposed on private builders?

I do not think that we are doing too badly on housing. I think that it ought to run to something between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. above the last Socialist Government's figures.

Is it not the case that the decision of the Conservative Party conference, under which the Government are acting—because the conference gave them their instructions—was that there should be a minimum of 300,000 houses a year? Is it not the case that, in a letter which his Department sent to the Lambeth Borough Council, it was pointed out that the Government were in danger of going substantially over the 300,000 figure, and that therefore the enterprise of the Lambeth Borough Council must be checked'? Why is the right hon. Gentleman stopping the Lambeth Borough Council from building houses, when they are willing, able and competent to do it?

They are building six times as many houses as they built under the previous Administration.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that has nothing to do with the point. Inevitably and properly the post-war housing programme would develop as it went along. Is it not the case—apart from his party political stuff—that the right hon. Gentleman has stopped the Lambeth Borough Council from building the houses which it is competent and able efficiently to build; and is it the case that the Government are determined that the housing programme shall not materially exceed the figure of 300,000?

I do not know about the post-war programme. The trouble was that the numbers fell from 240,000 houses in 1947 down to under 200,000. It went backwards—

and our programme has gone forward. As for Lambeth. I have to keep regionally to some reasonable plan by which we shall be able to proceed without having the kind of follies which we had under the former Administration, where far more houses were planned and started than could be finished.

Neglected Properties (Owners)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware of the continued and growing practice of certain landlords in allowing their properties to deteriorate into slums, refusing to carry out repairs under statutory and sanitary orders, and failing to leave a forwarding address whereby they can be traced for action to be taken against them; that this has created difficulties in Stanley, Livingstone and Biggerstaffe Roads, Stratford, E.15; and what action he proposes to take to compel these landlords to meet their statutory duties.

The statutory powers for enabling local authorities to deal with unfit property belonging to an untraceable owner have been strengthened in the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill. I am informed, however, that this difficulty does not arise in the areas mentioned by the hon. Member.

I appreciate that the powers have been strengthened, or that they will be, but does not the Minister agree that that means that local authorities will have to take over at great local rate expense these neglected houses which the landlords have literally sucked dry? Does the Minister think that it is right and proper that those landlords who have made huge fortunes should be allowed to get away with it while the local authorities have to pay?

That was not the Question I was asked. The Question was about landlords who cannot be traced. I know that the hon. Member is interested in the other matter. We discussed it in Committee on the Bill. What we have done in the Bill is to take additional powers to deal with the problem raised in the Question.



asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that the rent of a £1,500 council house will have to be raised by some 1s. 2d. per week to cover the deficit which will arise in the housing revenue account when the proposed reduction in the rate of subsidy takes place as and from 1st April next; and what action he proposes to take to see that the local authority housing revenue is in balance.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so coy about giving a direct answer? Is he aware that it is estimated that when the reduced subsidies come into operation on 1st April next there will be a deficit of 1s. 2d. per week per house on all houses which cost £1,500 built after that date, and that unless he does something about it the rents will have to be increased by that figure?

The hon. Gentleman talks about reduced subsidies. As soon as the Bank rate was put up the subsidies were put up. It does not seem to be unreasonable that when the Bank rate fell there should be some reduction in subsidy.

Will the Minister agree that the new subsidy rates will in fact reduce the income by 2s. 4d. per house per week whereas the reduced rate of interest will make up only 1s. 2d., the balance having to be met by an increase in rent?

The rent will depend upon the circumstances of each local authority, the cost of building, which varies, and the rent or rate policy which the local authority adopts.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what is now the value of the notional house upon which his standard of subsidy is based: and since what date such value has been accepted for this purpose.

One thousand five hundred and eighty-three pounds was taken as the latest available figure for the notional house when the local authority associations were consulted on 21st June.

Regional Organisations


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government to give an assurance that he will not abolish the present regional organisations for housing and planning.

Proposals for the gradual closing of these regional offices over a period are at present under consideration.

Does the Minister know that last week his Parliamentary Secretary said that he had not decided one way or the other on this matter? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he closes these regional organisations it will create great hardship especially for the small local authorities?

May I ask my right hon. Friend not to be deflected from his policy of closing regional organisations where-ever he can?



asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why his Department has limited the building programme of the Hornchurch Urban Disttrict Council to 124 houses during the present housing year.

This council has always been hampered by shortage of developed sites. This difficulty is now being partially overcome. They were given authority for an additional 74 houses and flats on 5th July.

Is not the Minister aware that when there was a Labour administration, as there is now again, in Horn-church, no fewer than 500 to 600 houses for letting were built every year, and that the council is prepared to put up that number, that sites are fully developed with roads for this purpose, and that his Department obstinately refuses to grant them any licence while 600 to 700 private houses are in the course of erection?

I understand that the difficulty was that of obtaining developed sites.

If I can show the Minister that developed sites are available, will he receive a deputation from the council which will bring plans and show him exactly where sewers and roads have already been laid?

I should be happy to receive a deputation whether it can show me that or not.

Can the right hon. Gentleman answer the important point made by my hon. and learned Friend? Private enterprise has been given its head to an ex tent that the local authority has not. Will he say why he is specially favouring private enterprise and here, as with Lambeth, bringing his hand down and cutting the local authority?

The circumstances vary in each locality. I can only remind the right hon. Gentleman that both houses to let and houses for private occupation are much larger in number now than they have ever been under his Administration.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to tell the House in truth that this is the smallest allocation of houses ever allowed to the Hornchurch Urban District Council, and that they have built far more houses than this in any year except the last year when he himself said that: the Conservative Administration were prevented by purely local considerations from building more?

The hon. and learned Gentleman had better give this information to the deputation.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, in view of the limitation of licences for new building imposed by him on the Hornchurch Urban District Council, he will reconsider his decision to require the council to return all requisitioned property by the end of October.

I have allowed the council until the end of next January to terminate the requisitions they hold. They have assured me that they should be able to do this.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say, first, whether it was the old Conservative council or the new Labour one that told him this? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that every one of the houses he has licensed them to build would not be enough to house the people who would be turned out of the derequisitioned houses, let alone to house any of the 2,000 or so families on the housing list?

My information is that there are about 90 families in requisitioned properties.

Building Standards, Blackburn


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why he has refused to confirm a building byelaw of the Blackburn Borough Council laying down a minimum ceiling height of eight feet for habitable rooms, in view of the smoke-laden humid atmosphere and low sunshine record in the town.

Health in living rooms depends not on ceiling heights alone but also on adequate ventilation, floor area and window space. Even considering the conditions in Blackburn, I do not think it necessary to insist on a minimum height greater than the seven feet six inches, which is now almost universally applicable.

Is the Minister aware that a minimum of eight feet has been in operation in Blackburn since 1934 and that the council strongly protests against this reduction of building standards, especially as the right hon. Gentleman announced on 13th April a concession for three other Lancashire councils, including Wigan and Farnworth, whose climatic conditions do not differ in any way from those at Blackburn?

Is the Minister aware that the Blackburn Borough Council will greatly deplore that frivolous reply and that they asked him to allow them to stand by the building standards which have been in operation in the area for many years? Will he reconsider the position in view of the low sunshine record and the humidity in the area?

This is contrary to the technical advice which I have received from the London School of Hygiene and other people whom I have consulted. I have made one or two concessions, but they were exceptional.

In view of the unsatisfactory and frivolous nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Southend Waterworks Company


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will make a statement on his negotiations with the Southend Waterworks Company.

I have asked for the company's views on the application of the water code of the 1945 Act to their undertaking. I would not expect them to come to a decision without time for consideration, and I think that it is too soon to make any statement on the negotiations.

In view of the widespread feeling that the company's recent raising of assessments in country districts operates unfairly between one district and another, would my right hon. Friend consider, on behalf of my own supporters and those of the party opposite, asking the company not to exercise its powers under the 1921 Act pending a settlement?

This matter is rather complicated. The provisions of the Third Schedule cover many more points than the one raised by my hon. Friend. He had better discuss the matter with me and we shall see what we can do.

Ministry Of Works

Atomic Research (Commercial Exploitation)


asked the Minister of Works if the paper which was given by Dr. A. Charlesby, of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, on the cross-linking of polythene by pile radiation, and on the effect of high-energy radiation on long-chain polymers, was delivered with his approval; on what terms a licence was granted to the General Electric Corporation of America for the manufacturing rights in this project; who will get the income which is the result of Harwell research: and how many applications have been made by or on behalf of German concerns to benefit from this British research.

Yes, Sir; publication of these papers was approved by the responsible authorities. No licence for manufacturing rights has been granted and no application has been received in this connection from any foreign firm. From 1st August, the Atomic Energy Authority will receive any income derived from commercial exploitation of the invention.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what is the procedure by which processes developed originally by Harwell are made available to private firms?

When an invention is thought worthy of patenting, an application is lodged for the patent and the information is distributed, and those who wish to take advantage of the invention can do so by paying a royalty to Harwell.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's original answer mean that no concern in this country which has benefited from the research carried out at Harwell is collaborating in any way with any other company in Germany, Japan or America?

I am not sure that I can answer that question without notice. A firm in this country is collaborating with Harwell on this invention, and one of its scientists is working there now.

Electricity (Nuclear Energy Generation)


asked the Minister of Works if he has now concluded a satisfactory arrangement with the manufacturers of atomically driven electric plant, with a view to ensuring that this country remains in the forefront of world development, that new ideas are immediately applied and that the needs of customers are met.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to him by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power on 28th June.

Things have moved a little in this respect since then. Is the right hon. Gentleman now satisfied that this country will not be left behind in this development as it has been in hydro-electrification? Can he give an assurance that the closest possible co-operation exists between the Ministries and the concerns responsible for manufacturing this kind of plant?

Yes, Sir. Discussions are continually taking place with both the British Electricity Authority and the manufacturers of this type of plant. We believe that we are ahead of other countries.

Did not the Minister of Fuel and Power recently announce that a special department of the British Electricity Authority was being established to deal with the application of nucleonics to the generation of electric power, and is not that adequate in all the circumstances?

Are we at present negotiating, like the Americans are, with Canadian uranium interests? Is there any possibility of keeping the basic price of uranium round about 7·2 dollars per lb.? The present price is about 11·5 dollars. Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that there will be control of the uranium ore in the interests of productivity for the people?

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is connected with the previous Question.

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, is not my question not only connected with the previous Question but also very relevant to the Question which has just been answered?

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the subject on the Adjournment at the first opportunity.

Uranium Ore And Cobalt Supplies


asked the Minister of Works if he will make a statement on our present position for the supply of uranium ore and cobalt under the 1940 Anglo-Belgian-United States Agreement; and if he is satisfied that this country will have the required supply of uranium, cobalt, etc., to enable us to keep pace with developments and manufacturing needs.

I would refer the hon. Member to the replies I gave to the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) on 16th March last. The agreement does not cover the supply of cobalt. I am informed by the Minister of Materials that supplies of cobalt are adequate.

Adastral House (Requisitioning)


asked the Minister of Works when his Department proposes to release Adastral House from requisition.

I expect to release Adastral House by 30th June, 1955. If I can do so earlier, I will.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that any uncertainty about the date of release, added to the shortness of the proposed notice, makes it very difficult to relet a vast building like this, which has been in Air Ministry occupation for 35 years and was requisitioned only in 1946 when the lease ran out?

I am advised that the notice of almost a year is adequate for the purpose of successfully negotiating about the future of the building.

Tower Of London (School Parties)

38 and 39.

asked the Minister of Works (1) what arrangements or regulations are made by his Department to control the admission to the Tower of London of parties of school children from the provinces, when organised from the schools: and

(2) under what conditions parties of school children are admitted, without charge, to visit the Tower of London; and what facilities there are to encourage the visit of school children from the provinces.

By agreement with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, my Department allows free admission for up to 500 school children a day coming in organised parties from any part of the country, provided not more than 100 children are from the same school. Applications must be made in advance, and are granted automatically until the daily quota is full. My right hon. Friend has no reason to think that these arrangements are not generally known.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there are only 500 free places available for school children visiting the Tower, which is now very popular with children in the provinces? Will he at least ensure that those in the provinces get their share of the 500 free places, because I am not satisfied that they do, and would he have a look at the question of increasing the number, now that the Tower has become so popular?

More than a million people pay for admission to the Tower every year, and it is becoming overcrowded. The more free places we grant, the more we disappoint some of those who come and are willing to pay. It is a very difficult question, because the Tower has become so popular.

Is the Minister aware that, while there are one million visitors a year to the Tower, he is allowing only 500 free places a day for school children, and will he increase the number of parties of school children to be admitted free, not only in the case of London schools, but those in the provinces also?

I will do my best to see that the provinces get their share, but it is very unfair to visitors, particularly those from overseas, who come to the Tower ready to pay for admission and find they cannot be admitted. It is now a very severe problem, because, when they have got inside the Tower, they also wish to see the Crown Jewels, and we can only get 3,000 people a day through the Jewel House. If I were to cut the number of these visitors down by increasing the free places, there would be much distress among those who come specially to see the Jewels.

Requisitioned Properties


asked the Minister of Works how many properties are still held under requisition by his Department; if he will order a new investigation into the circumstances of each case; and if he will direct that prior consideration be given to the original owner, or owners, whenever a sale is contemplated.

Some 1,350 properties are held under requisition by my Department under Defence Regulation 51. Continued efforts are being made to end these requisitions. Ownership is not affected by requisition, and no question of sale arises.

In view of the fact that it is now nearly 10 years since the end of the war, will my right hon. Friend look into this matter again?

I am giving constant personal attention to this matter. There were 1,700 properties under requisition last September; we have now got the figure down to 1,350, and I hope that by the end of the year it will be down to 800.

Brick Supplies, Hornchurch


asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware that the Hornchurch Urban District Council, together with contractors to the council, have orders for 2 million bricks outstanding for 18 months; that neither the council nor the contractors thereto can obtain delivery; and whether, in these circumstances, he will take steps to see that adequate supplies of bricks are provided for Hornchurch housing.

This appears to be an unusual case where special difficulties have held up deliveries. I am expecting further information and will communicate with the hon. and learned Member.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Hornchurch housing programme, now administered by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, is completely held up by a failure to deliver bricks, and cannot he at least give some assurance to the House that some steps will be taken, and as soon as possible, to secure a supply of bricks being made available to the contractors, because they are being supplied to private builders?

This is the only instance this year in the whole of the Eastern Region of a shortage of bricks being reported to my Department. As far as I understand the position, the council and the brickmaking firm got into some disagreement, but a meeting was held yesterday between the two sides, and I hope the matter is now settled.

Carlton House Terrace


asked the Minister of Works when the reconstruction of Carlton House Terrace will start.

No decision has been reached. The matter will be reviewed later in the year.

Can the Minister say whether plans have now been finally approved, and, if so, whether it is simply a matter of the expenditure that is holding it up? If not, what are the reasons for the delay?

Plans are about 50 per cent. completed. Certainly it is a question of finance as to when any building can start.

Royal Parks



asked the Minister of Works if he is yet in a position to announce the date on which the Committee on litter in the Royal Parks will present its report; and if he will make a statement.

In three months the Committee on litter has secured a marked improvement in St. James's Park and in the Green Park. Further experiments will be made at the August Bank Holiday and a new design for litter-baskets is being tried out. In all their work, the Committee has received much ingenious help from the Press. I do not expect their report until the autumn, but in the meantime the Committee and the public deserve to be congratulated on the reduction in litter which has been achieved.

Horses (Replacement)


asked the Minister of Works why it is proposed to dispense with the services of one black gelding and two bay mares which have been employed in the Royal Parks for the disposal of rubbish; and, in view of the fact that there is a possibility that they will be slaughtered, whether he will reconsider his decision.

The time must come when horses, like hon. Members, retire from service. These three animals belonged to a contractor who collected leaves and litter in the Parks. Their place will be taken by one motor lorry at a saving of £1,200 a year, and I understand they are going to a comfortable home.

Is it not the case that the lives of these three horses, who have served the community for over 30 years, will now be saved? If publicity had not been given to the matter and an offer received from one of the animal welfare societies, might not the horses already have found their way to the knacker's yard; or might not portions of them have been served to the right hon. Gentleman for his dinner?

I am very thankful that offers have been made to give the horses a comfortable home. I have no reason to believe that the contractor would have done other than find homes for them.

Car Parking


asked the Minister of Works if his attention has been drawn to the increasing numbers of motor cars parked each day in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and other Royal Parks; and if he will take steps to discourage this practice.

I am disturbed by the increasing numbers of cars which are being parked in the Royal Parks, other/than Kensington Gardens, where vehicles are prohibited. I am reviewing the problem in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and the police.

Germany (Re-Armament)


asked the Prime Minister what communication he has received from the French Prime Minister regarding the joint Anglo-United States statement on West German sovereignty.

No communication has been received from the French Prime Minister. In public, however, Monsieur Mendès-France has indicated his satisfaction, and stated that the French Government would be greatly helped in their consideration of the E.D.C. problem by this re-statement of their allies' views.

In view of the successful demonstration at the Geneva Conference of Anglo-French unity on a policy of peaceful negotiation with the Communist countries, will the Prime Minister now propose to M. Mendès-France the holding of a new four-Power meeting on Germany before any irrevocable step is taken towards German sovereignty and rearmament?

The hon. Member takes a surprising view of the way in which the process of Government is conducted if he supposes that I could give an answer to a question like that on the spur of the moment.


asked the Prime Minister the detailed proposals of the Government for bringing the Bonn Convention into force separately from the European Defence Community Treaty while deferring the rearmament of Germany.

In my speech in the Foreign Affairs debate on the 14th July, I explained the general approach of Her Majesty's Government to this problem, should it arise. It would be premature to go into the matter in greater detail unless and until it does arise.

As the Bonn Convention leaves the door wide open for the creation of German national armed forces, without limit or control, and as Mr. Dulles has stated that M. MendèsFrance has been given only until the 15th August to ratify the E.D.C. Treaty, by which time this House will be in Recess, is it not important that this House should be fully acquainted with the detailed proposals of H.M. Government before we rise for the Summer Recess?

I am afraid I cannot add to the answer which I have already given.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that before Her Majesty's Government reaches agreement with other interested powers on the question of the accession of German sovereignty, Parliament will have an opportunity of debating any proposed agreement, and that, in the event of the House of Commons being on Summer Recess when these proposed agreements are made, he will take steps for the recall of Parliament so that this may be debated.

The hon. Member can rest assured that Her Majesty's Government will act with propriety as circumstances require.

That is not the usual forthcoming answer that we expect from the Prime Minister. If the Leader of the Official Opposition—[Laughter.] Mr. Speaker. I was going on to ask for an assurance when I was rudely interrupted by the shouting of hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches, and I would therefore repeat my question. Can we have an assurance that if an approach is made by the Leader of the Official Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Yes, or the Leader of the Liberal opposition, or the Tory opposition of the 1922 Committee—the Prime Minister will give favourable consideration with a view to recalling Parliament?

We shall be guided by precedents in this matter, although it may be a little difficult to see how things stand, in view of some of the suggestions made by the hon. Member about conditions prevailing on the Opposition side of the House.

Does the Prime Minister realise that this is an extremely serious matter, and that there will be profound opposition to any opening of the door to unlimited German re-armament? Is he also aware that it is no way to treat this House to suggest that this matter should be settled in the absence of hon. Members? Will he not look at the matter again, and perhaps undertake to tell us next week what his intentions are?

I do not think there is any need for further definition. The precedents are well known and can be studied. Naturally, any request by the Leader of the Opposition—I had not appreciated the distinction, as I thought that the right hon. Member for Waltham-stow, West (Mr. Attlee) on the Front Bench opposite was the Leader of the Opposition; at any rate he is, for all purposes, connected with the usual channels, and any representation made by him will receive most careful consideration.

International Atomic Agency


asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the progress of discussions on President Eisenhower's proposal to establish an international atomic agency.


asked the Prime Minister what proposals he made to President Eisenhower, in Washington, about further action to establish an international atomic pool, in the light of the Soviet Government's refusal to continue discussions on the original United States proposal

In discussion with President Eisenhower, we noted with disappointment that the Russians had not agreed to join in the scheme which the President had proposed for international development of the peaceful uses of atomic energy. We agreed, however, that the invitation to the Russians should be left open. Meanwhile consideration would be given to the question of putting the President's plan into effect, even without Soviet participation.

In view of the fact that the President made his proposals more than eight months ago, cannot the Prime Minister give an indication when it is likely that an announcement will be made establishing the agency?

I think what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said shows very clearly why I am not able to give any precise indication.

Troops, Korea (Retention)


asked the Prime Minister how far he intends to retain the members of our Forces in Korea until a political settlement is reached.

The time has not yet come to take a decision about the strength of the United Nations forces which must be retained in Korea in the immediate future.

Yes, but as a political settlement will take a very considerable time to effect, and as the Prime Minister has apparently set his heart on creating a substantial strategic reserve in the United Kingdom, is it not desirable that we should proceed now to bring some of our troops home?

What does all this mean? Why is the right hon. Gentleman saying in reply to all supplementary questions "I have nothing to add," instead of giving a direct reply to a simple question? Does it mean that he is evading the questions? Does he not wish to reply? Is he entitled to treat the House and hon. Members in this way?

I could not give a more direct reply to the Question of the right hon. Gentleman than that which I have given. He asked me:

"how far he intends to retain the members of our Forces in Korea until a political settlement is reached."
I replied that the time had not yet come to take a decision about that point.

Defence Expenditure


asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a statement on the review promised by the Government on defence expenditure; and how far any reduction can be expected in the current year.

Will the right hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming? In view of the fact that earlier in the yeas, or I believe at the end of last year, both he and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised emphatically to the House that the Government were reviewing defence expenditure and hoped to effect a reduction at an early date, what is being done about it?

Unending studies have been made in this subject. The Estimates are usually decided in November of each year, but as early as May, if not April, we began special Departmental and inter-Departmental inquiries in order that the whole field should be surveyed. That process is still going on and considerable progress has been made in a general presentation of the case. The decisions which have been taken upon it will be made known to Parliament at the usual time.

Very well. In view of the progress which the right hon. Gentleman says has been made, can he reply to the second part of my Question? Does he expect to effect a reduction in the current year?

No, Sir, not unless some unexpectedly favourable event should occur. The process of effecting frugal economies in the whole conduct of the Services is steadily going forward.

Is the Prime Minister aware that it costs £25,000 to train a bomber pilot? Will he look at this calculation and see whether it is not much too generous?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to do more in regard to that question than to see that it is transmitted, with the HANSARD, to the appropriate Department.

Government Administration (Economy)


asked the Prime Minister what action he intends to take to improve the efficiency and economy of Government administration.

This is not the sort of subject which can be dealt with in the limits of Question time.

I thank the Prime Minister for that very clear and concise reply. Is he aware that at the time of the Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that an inquiry was being made into Government expenditure? Will a statement be made before we rise as to the progress of this review and what the results are likely to be?

I am not aware that there was any intention to make an interim statement of this character before the House rises.


Heavy Goods Vehicles (Speed Limit)


asked the Minister of Labour how the information about the nature of the objections of the trade unions to the raising of the heavy goods speed limit was obtained in view of the fact that there have been no formal consultations between his Department and trade union officials on this subject: and whether he will now take steps to ascertain what precisely is the nature of these objections so that when the time is opportune to promote agreement between employers' and employees' organisations about this matter there will be no delay through lack of information.

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

I would refer my hon. Friend to my answer on the same subject on 22nd June, when I said there had been no formal consultations recently. Formal consultations did, however, take place at an earlier stage between the unions concerned, and the then Ministers of Transport and Labour and National Service. As a result of those consultations, and more recent informal contacts, I am satisfied that there is no lack of information as to the views of the trade unions on this matter.

Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has said, can the Minister say whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to re-open these important discussions, as it is solely a question of raising production in the heavy vehicle industry?

To the Ministry of Labour, the question of timing is usually everything, and it is the view of my right hon. and learned Friend that the time is not appropriate for any further consultation.

In view of the increasing density of traffic on the roads, does not the Minister agree that to increase the speed of heavy goods lorries increases the danger that we experience every day on our arterial roads?

Is my hon. Friend aware that goods-lorry drivers often go at 30 to 40 miles on hour, and then go and have a sleep in a lay-by road?

Northern Ireland


asked the Minister of Labour what proposals he has to relieve the unemployment in Northern Ireland.

During a recent visit to Belfast, I took the opportunity of discussing with Members of Her Majesty's Government in Northern Ireland, the unemployment situation there. I have reported these talks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is responsible for relations with Northern Ireland. He is arranging for further consideration to be given to this problem, and a meeting of Ministers is to take place this week.

While thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply, may I ask him to say something about the position at Short Brothers where there is now the problem of the dispersal of a very greatly skilled labour force, and whether or not his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply could not put into that factory some other type of aircraft production in order to keep that skilled labour-force together?

That is one of the problems which we shall be discussing. I have already communicated with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, but I have to remember that this is really a matter for Her Majesty's Government in Northern Ireland. While we are very ready to co-operate, I cannot act without them.

While welcoming the new-found interest of hon. Members opposite in the question of unemployment in Northern Ireland, may I ask the Minister whether he will continue to keep in touch with hon. Members on this side of the House, and with the Government of Northern Ireland who are making every effort with regard to this serious problem with very considerable success?

Ministerial Statements (News Leakages)

I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) asked me on 15th July to inquire into the publication in the London evening papers, in advance of the statement which I made to the House on that day about the Ministry of Materials, of reports that a decision had been made to wind up the Ministry and transfer its functions to the Board of Trade. The facts appear to be as follows.

On the morning of 15th July, "The Times" newspaper published on its main news page the following report:
"With the progressive removal of controls and restoration of private trading the functions of the Ministry of Materials have been diminished to a point at which the Ministry's continuance as a separate Department can soon be ended. It is believed that a Government announcement to this effect is imminent. The remaining responsibilities of the Ministry of Materials will probably be transferred to the Board of Trade. The stocks of raw materials in the hands of the Ministry are being rapidly liquidated and during the past two years and a half the staff has been reduced by more than half. The Minister of Materials is Lord Woolton, who combines this office with that of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster."
This statement was no doubt founded on the general information which newspapers collect in the diligent pursuit of their business; and I am not aware of its source. The interest of the evening newspapers was naturally aroused; but the only information which was given to inquirers was that the Prime Minister would be making an announcement on the subject in the House of Commons that afternoon. As comparison with the OFFICIAL REPORT shows, the reports which appeared in the early afternoon editions did not contain any of the material included in my statement made at the end of Questions, apart from the deduction that the Ministry of Materials was now to be wound up.

The House will be obliged to the Prime Minister for his statement. I gathered from his earlier answer that he would make inquiries with a view to finding out whether there was a leakage from Ministerial quarters, and I would like to know whether such inquiries were made, whether the result was negative, or whether anything came out of them. While making it clear, as I did before, that I am not attacking the journalists, whose business it is to get news—and one cannot blame them if they get it; and it is interesting that in this case the most successful, progressive and lively of the lot was "The Times," for whose political correspondent those of us who know him on both sides of the House have a high regard—may I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he accepts the view that it somewhat lowers the dignity of the House of Commons, and, in a way, makes fools of us, if before the Prime Minister or other Ministers make a statement to the House that statement appears in substance in the Press, as it did on this occasion?

It is quite untrue to say that it appeared in substance in the Press. Hardly a word of my statement appeared in any of the newspapers before I made it. I have been given a bundle of instances of leakages, lamentable leakages, admitted leakages. and, sometimes, intentional leakages, which occurred during the lifetime of the Labour Government, notably in regard to the impending formation of the Ministry of Materials which was published exclusively in the "Daily Mail" before any information had been given to Parliament. Indeed, the report also gave the name of the Minister, the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who had been chosen to take charge of the new Department of State, even though Parliament had not yet been invited to pass the necessary legislation, and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was unable, despite the most diligent inquiries, to discover the source from which this information came.

There have, of course, been Questions asked about news published in newspapers when the late Government were in power. For instance, in 1945 the news that the hospitals under the National Health Service were to be handed over to regional boards was given exclusively to the "Daily Mirror," but the Minister, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), stated that he had been unable to discover the source of the leak. I could go on almost indefinitely.

This is a very sad case of the Prime Minister anticipating an aggressive attack from me on this occasion which he did not receive. On the contrary, he received a most courteous inquiry, but he was so primed with the ammunition in his hand that instead of doing what I would have done, giving a polite answer back, he must deliver himself of this ammunition. Cannot the Prime Minister return to the point and accept the view—as I am sure that I did on the occasion which he quotes—that it is unfortunate and lamentable that when a statement is to be made to the House of Commons it should first appear in the Press? Will the Prime Minister assure the House that, within the limits of his capacity—and no one knows the difficulties of these matters more than I do—he will do all he can to prevent it? May I express the hope that the Prime Minister feels better now that he has shot off his ammunition?

I am certainly glad to feel that the ammunition was not wasted. It is quite untrue to say—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not persist in saying it—that my statement appeared in any form in any of the newspapers. Nothing in the statement which I made was reproduced in the speculative statements which appeared in the earlier editions of the newspapers—nothing—and the right hon. Gentleman has no right to go on asserting that statement when he has had quite definite proof that it is not in accordance with the facts.

As I originally raised this matter last week and asked you, Mr. Speaker, to be good enough to give the Prime Minister an opportunity of having an investigation made, and as the Prime Minister said that he would have investigations made, in reply to my right hon. Friend, is it not customary that the hon. Member who originally raised an issue is given, subject to your approval, the opportunity to ask a supplementary question?

I think that every case must be taken on its merits, but the question of the hon. Member was taken over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison).

Business Of The House

Proceedings on the Isle of Man (Customs) Bill exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[ The Prime Minister.]

Crichel Down

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

3.41 p.m.

Today the House will discuss the issues arising out of Sir Andrew Clark's Report on the public inquiry into the disposal of land at Crichel Down. I am thankful that this day has come. First, I think that it might be helpful if I gave the House my own review of the course of events affecting this land. I will then turn to certain general issues of policy that arise out of this particular case.

By way of background, may I remind the House that the Air Ministry purchased this area of 725 acres of chalk down-land before the war for use as a bombing range. The land was not requisitioned. It was bought outright from three owners: 328 acres were bought from the late Lord Alington's Crichel Estate; 382 acres were bought from Mr. Farquharson's Langton Estate, and the remaining 15 acres from the late Mr. Hooper's farm. The three owners were paid £8,346 for the value of their land. Over and above that, Lord Alington and Mr. Farquharson received £3,760 for injurious affection arising from the severance of the land from the farms of which it had previously formed part.

When in 1950 the Air Ministry no longer required the land, the Ministry of Agriculture took it over for agricultural use. My predecessor, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams)—whom I see in his place opposite—in 1950 placed it under the management of the Agricultural Land Commission, the members of which are independent persons and not officials. I would ask the House to take note of that. It was the Commission's statutory responsibility to decide what would be the best method of managing the land in the future. It had to consider whether it would be better to let it off as bare land to the neighbouring farms—that is, those farms of which it had originally formed part—or to keep it as a compact block, and equip it as one farm, that is, as a self-contained unit.

This is the kind of problem which the Land Commission has to consider, and clearly the main considerations which it must have in mind are, first, what would be likely to result in the most productive use of the land, and secondly, whether the expenditure involved could be justified. In this case the Commission, in the exercise of its statutory function, decided that the right course, from the agricultural standpoint, was to equip the land as one farm. This was in no way a reflection on the farming abilities of the neighbouring farmers, nor indeed on their capacity for dealing with the land had it been let to them.

The plain fact was that the Commission at that time came to the conclusion that, however good the neighbouring farmers were, and whatever equipment they had on their land, this area of 725 acres was likely to be more productive as one farm with a resident farmer than if farmed as the outlying land of neighbouring farms. Clearly this decision must be a matter of opinion and different experts might well hold different views, but, having regard to the potentialities of this chalk down land, a good case could certainly be made for equipping this land as one farm. Indeed, in his Report Sir Andrew Clark states that there were ample grounds for coming to that conclusion.

The Land Commission then had to consider whether the cost of equipping this land was justifiable, and what sort of return it would give on the investment. Its estimate, which was different from and lower than the estimate subsequently made by Crown Lands, was that the capital expenditure required would be some £22,500. It was also estimated that the rent which the equipped land might then command would be of the order of £3 an acre, assuming that agricultural conditions did not materially worsen. After allowing for depreciation and maintenance, this rent would give a net return of nearly 5 per cent. on the total capital invested, including, of course, the valuation of the land at the time of transfer. This is a very good return for agricultural investment.

Even if the estimated cost of capital works proved to be too low and the rent of £3 an acre were not maintained indefinitely, the Commission took the view that financially the scheme was justified. As I have already said, the Commission had already taken its decision in 1950, before any question arose of a possible resale of the land to Mrs. Marten and the other successors of the original owners.

When Commander Marten approached us in June, 1952, the matter had to be considered entirely afresh, this time from the angle of possible resale to the successors of the former owners. Here I would like to say that the Land Commission is not itself empowered to buy or sell land. That is for the Minister of Agriculture of the day. But one of the Commission's statutory duties is to advise the Minister on matters of estate management which he may refer to it. When the question arose of the possible resale of the land, the Commission was asked to make a further inquiry and to give me its advice.

The Commission reconsidered the matter and its advice was the same as its conclusion in August, 1950, namely, that on agricultural and financial grounds the right course from the point of view of management was to equip the land as one farm. It concluded that to split the property must necessarily reduce its production, and it was not, therefore, concerning itself with the wishes, the farming capabilities or the equipment of the neighbouring farms.

I think it only fair to the Land Commission to point out that, in reaching its conclusions, it did not rely solely on the reports of officials. Before reaching its decision in 1950, Mr. Geoffrey Bourke, at that time a member of the Commission, personally inspected the area. Mr. Bourke has been President of the Land Agents' Society and a Vice-President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and has the highest reputation professionally. When the decision was reconsidered in 1952, following Commander Marten's application, the area was again visited by a member of the Commission, Mr. Watson Jones, a large-scale farmer and of the very highest repute.

To continue, and to give the House a picture, I would say that the Commission is an independent statutory body. Its principal function is to manage, on the Minister's behalf, agricultural land placed at its disposal, and this is by no means an easy task. Many of the properties that it deals with are "problem" areas from the point of view of management. I am completely satisfied that, in the general conduct of its affairs, the Commission paid full regard to financial considerations, given the nature of its task. Its other main function is to advise me on matters relating to agricultural land management, and it was in this connection that it was asked to advise on Crichel Down.

In deciding what advice to give me, it had to assess all the relevant factors, and for this purpose it is naturally supplied with information and advice by the officers serving it. The Commission has all this information and advice before it when discussing and formulating its own conclusions, but—and this is the important point—having decided upon the opinion which, as a Commission, it wishes to give to me, it is no part of its duty to supply me also with the material which it has considered in reaching its conclusions.

After all, one of the advantages of seeking the views of an independent body like the Commission is that it can sift the evidence and reach a considered opinion in the light of that evidence, and, in accordance with its normal practice, the Commission did not attach to the considered opinion in this case which it sent me any of the material which had been placed before it, whether it was in favour of or contrary to the views which the Commission expressed. I am satisfied that there was no question of the Commission deliberately withholding information from me which it was part of its duty to pass on.

After receiving the Commission's advice, I thought it right, in the circumstances, to ask Lord Carrington, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, to go down and make a personal inspection to see if he concurred in the views expressed. This he did, and again, looking at the matter purely from the point of view of agricultural management, he came to the conclusion that the proposal to equip the land as one farm was right.

This was the position towards the end of 1952 when I had to take my decision whether to go ahead with the proposal to equip the land as one farm or to sell or let it as bare land to the adjoining occupiers. It is true that at that time both the Land Commission and I were under certain misapprehensions about both the condition of the land when the Air Ministry acquired it in 1937 and the form of acquisition of most of it. These questions, though clearly important, do not, I think, affect the core of the agricultural management problem which had to be decided in 1952.

I decided that I had no reason to reject the advice that I had received on the agricultural and financial merits. As I have said, Sir Andrew Clark states that there were ample grounds for coming to the conclusion that this method of dealing with the land would result in increased production. Regarding finance, it seemed to me that the estimated return of about 5 per cent. was certainly satisfactory. To sum up this part of my remarks, both the Commission and Lord Carrington, after a personal inspection, had advised me that on agricultural and financial grounds the land should be equipped as one farm. That advice I had accepted.

I had now to decide whether, in spite of that, I should nevertheless sell the land back to the successors of the former owners because of the claim that Commander Marten was pressing for the return of his wife's property. The moral aspect of this claim was fully argued before I reached my decision. It is true, as I have said, that I was told incorrectly that the land from the Crichel and Langton Estates had been sold voluntarily, but I did not at the time regard the difference between voluntary and compulsory purchase as decisive. I recognised that the land owners concerned would have known that, failing agreement, compulsory powers could be exercised. Indeed, I knew that Mr. Hooper's 15 acres had been compulsorily acquired. Accordingly, I weighed this claim against the agricultural case.

Here I must remind the House that at the time I took my decision there was still an overriding need for maximum food production. When this Government took office at the end of 1951, there was a shortage of food and a grave crisis in the national balance of payments, and although my colleagues and I came into power with the firm intention to free the economy, restore liberty and encourage private enterprise, it was impossible in the circumstances existing at that time to proceed as rapidly as we would have wished.

In fact, during the last two years we have been able to make very substantial progress in these directions. We have now dismantled the major part of the apparatus of rationing and controls of the nation's food, and it is our policy progressively to get rid of emergency powers which permit private interests in land to be overridden. With this freeing of the economy, and the material improvement in the food situation today, it is possible to contemplate taking actions in the interests of liberty and free enterprise which the national economic situation would not have permitted two or three years ago. I shall announce later in my speech a change in the Government's policy regarding the sale of land, but I am now dealing with 1952.

In 1952, when I had to determine the future of Crichel Down, the food shortage was still serious, and in the national interest the necessities of maximum production had to prevail. I decided that the right course was to go ahead with the equipment of the land as one farm, and I gave instructions accordingly. I accept full responsibility for that decision, and I have endeavoured to explain to the House the reasons which led me to it.

Now I come to the next part of the story. I come to the sale to the Commissioners of Crown Lands. As the House will know, the Commissioners are in effect a body of trustees whose duty it is to administer the hereditary estates of the Crown. The capital remains the property of the Crown, but the income is surrendered to Parliament in exchange for the Civil List. Their Statutes provide for the reinvestment in land of any money which they receive from the sale of land. At that time I knew that they were looking out for land to purchase. I knew also that if they bought the Crichel Down land on condition that they equipped it, they could be relied on to observe that condition. They were approached, and their officials went into the whole question.

Although I am, ex officio, a Commissioner of Crown Lands as well as the Minister of Agriculture, the two offices are quite separate, and I need hardly say that I did not in any way intervene in these investigations to influence the recommendation that the officials would make. Crown Lands wanted to find out the cost of buying and equipping the land, and the rent they would be able to get for it. They were naturally not prepared just to accept the previous estimates by the Land Commission. Their first step was to approach a possible tenant, who said that he would be ready to pay £3 an acre for the land equipped in an agreed way. In the view of Crown Lands, the cost of this equipment worked out at £32,000. The sale price of the land was agreed by the district valuer at £15,000.

On these figures, the net return on the investment, after allowing for depreciation and maintenance, was nearly 3½ per cent. It is not easy to get more than this on an agricultural investment, and management created no problem—that is an important point here—since Crown Lands already owned another estate nearby. They felt, therefore, that the proposition was a reasonable one. Crown Lands, therefore, decided to accept the proposal, and I approved of it in my double capacity as Minister of Agriculture and Commissioner of Crown Lands. The proposal went forward with Treasury consent.

As there has been criticism of this decision, I should like to read to the House from Conclusion No. 9 of Sir Andrew Clark's Report in which he states:
"certainly the best, and probably the only certain way of ensuring that the purchaser implemented the Government policy was by a sale to Crown Lands, whose policy the Minister himself was in a position to control by virtue of his office as ex officio Commissioner."
I admit at once that it was most regrettable—and I make no attempt to excuse it—that the promises made on behalf of the Land Commission to previous applicants for the land that their applications would be considered in due course were not brought to the notice of those handling the matter until after Crown Lands felt that they were under a moral obligation to the prospective tenant. Had Crown Lands not taken this view, it would have been possible, even at that stage, to have advertised the tenancy, although such a procedure would have been unusual, because Crown Lands had not at that time decided to buy the land.

I now come to the question of the dilapidations allowed to the tenant, Mr. Tozer. This subject is complicated and highly technical, so I thought it desirable to get independent professional advice about it. I accordingly asked the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to nominate a suitable person to advise me on the propriety and competence of the actions of the Crown Receivers. The President nominated for this purpose Mr. Charles Walmsley, a Fellow and Member of the Council of the Royal Institution, a Fellow of the Land Agents' Society, a Member of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, and a partner in the Manchester firm of Meller, Speakman and Hall. Mr. Walmsley went into this matter very thoroughly and provided me with a full report. I am most grateful to him for giving his services for this task at very short notice. I am arranging for a few copies of the report to be placed in the Library, so that hon. Members who are specially interested in this subject can study it alongside the transcript of evidence and the other relevant papers which were put there earlier.

Mr. Walmsley considers that in two respects there is evidence of faulty judgment on the part of Messrs. Sanctuary and Son, but that this did not result in any prejudice to the interests of their clients, Crown Lands. In all other respects, he considers that the Crown Receivers showed a high level of competency in this matter and that the propriety of their actions cannot be questioned.

I have considered very carefully, in the light of Sir Andrew Clark's Report and the comments made by Mr. Walmsley, the firm's position as Crown Receivers in Dorset. I have decided that other arrangements must be made for managing the Crichel Down land, but that I should not make any immediate change in the management of the one other Crown property in Dorset. I shall be referring again to the position of Messrs. Sanctuary and Son a little later on. I have given the House a plain account of the history of this case so that hon. Members can see for themselves the reasons which led to the various actions taken, and now I should like to turn to certain matters of a more general nature, but directly related to the circumstances of this case.

First, I should like to say a word about the conduct of the civil servants concerned. General issues of great constitutional importance arise in this regard. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs will deal with them when he speaks later in this debate. I am quite clear that it would be deplorable if there were to be any departure from the recognised constitutional position. I, as Minister, must accept full responsibility to Parliament for any mistakes and inefficiency of officials in my Department, just as, when my officials bring off any successes on my behalf, I take full credit for them.

Any departure from this long-established rule is bound to bring the Civil Service right into the political arena, and that we should all, on both sides of the House, deprecate most vigorously. I shall have something more to say about Ministerial responsibility before I sit down; I would only add, at this stage, that it should not be thought that this means that I am bound to endorse the actions of officials, whatever they may be, or that I or any other Minister must shield those who make errors against proper consequences

When, in October of last year, I decided to arrange for a public inquiry, it had been brought to my notice that rumours of corruption and personal dishonesty were circulating. It was this information which finally led me to the conclusion that an independent inquiry should be held into the whole circumstances of the case. Sir Andrew Clark reported that he had found no trace of anything in the nature of bribery, corruption or personal dishonesty, and in the short statement that I made in the House on 15th June I said that the inquiry had thus achieved my main purpose.

Since then I have been much criticised for seeming, in that statement, to attach too much importance to the dismissal of any suggestion of corruption, and too little to the other faults which have been brought to light. This was very far from my intention. I never sought to obscure the fact that mistakes and grave errors of judgment were made which undoubtedly merited severe censure and reprimand.

The accusation has been made publicly that officials wilfully misled me. Although there were certain inaccuracies and deficiencies in the information given me, when I took my decision, I had the main facts before me, and my advisers were certainly not guilty of wilfully misleading me. I underline the word "wilfully."

I now turn to the question of disciplinary action. The conduct of the civil servants concerned has been the subject of a public inquiry and of a report and, as a result, they have received public censure and reprimand. This in itself is a most severe punishment. I still hold the view which I expressed in the original statement I made in this House on 15th June, but there does remain the question as to what action may be necessary to maintain public confidence in the administration of Departments. The Government thought it right that the need for any such action should be further reviewed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister arranged for a small advisory Committee of experienced persons to review this aspect of the matter. They have completed their task swiftly and presented a report. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who were they?"] If the House will wait one minute, I shall give the names.

The Committee was asked to consider whether, in order to maintain public confidence in the administration of Departments, any of the officers whose conduct was called in question in Sir Andrew Clark's Report should be transferred from their existing duties to other posts. It was asked to take into account both the public interest and the efficiency of the public service and fair treatment of the individuals concerned. It was not, in any sense, asked to review Sir Andrew Clark's findings, or to conduct an inquiry leading to further disciplinary action.

The committee consisted of Sir John Woods, a former Permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade and now a director of the English Electric Co. and other companies, Sir Maurice Holmes, a former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, and Sir Harry Pilkington. The Report of the Committee will be available in the Vote Office when I sit down, but it may be convenient if I indicate briefly its substance.

The Committee states that there are five civil servants whose actions are criticised with varying degrees of severity in Sir Andrew Clark's Report. Having studied the Report, read the observations submitted to me by these five officers and interviewed them, it reached a conclusion in the case of Mr. Eastwood, the Permanent Commissioner of Crown Lands, that his usefulness as a public servant would be impaired if he were to remain in his present post. It recommends, therefore, that he should be transferred to other duties. Three of the four other officers involved are not now employed on the work on which they were engaged when dealing with the Crichel Down case, and the Committee recommends no action in regard to them.

I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the three members of this Committee for undertaking so swiftly the task of familiarising themselves with the details of this matter and for tendering their considered advice on the action that should be taken. The Government fully accept this advice and are taking steps to give early effect to it. They are confident that Parliament and the public, as well as the Civil Service, will accept the review by this Committee of experienced and impartial persons as disposing of this aspect of the matter in a proper and fair manner.

When the new Permanent Commissioner of Crown Lands is appointed one of his first tasks will be to study what has happened in the Crichel Down case. It will then be for him—

The Minister has announced the fate of four of these civil servants. He said there were five concerned. Can he say what has been done about the fifth?

I would ask my hon. Friend to await the Report. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am only saying that the Report will be available, and that it will be written out in very great detail.

The remark my right hon. Friend made was inaudible to some of us. Will he say it again?

I said that the Report will be in the Vote Office when I sit down, and all these details are contained in the Report.

When the new Permanent Commissioner is appointed, one of his first tasks will be to study all that has happened in the Crichel Down case. It will then be for him to consider whether Sanctuary and Son should continue as the Crown Receivers for the remaining Crown properties in that area.

I have already announced that there is to be an independent review of the organisation for administering Crown Lands. In addition, I am arranging for a thorough examination of the organisation and methods adopted within the Ministry and the Agricultural Land Commission for dealing with transactions in agricultural land. This examination will include the work of the Agricultural Land Service both at headquarters and in the provincial centres and counties.

I am very glad to say that Sir Arton Wilson and Mr. F. W. Allam have agreed to undertake this task. Sir Arton Wilson recently retired after a distinguished career in the Civil Service. He was for a number of years the Principal Establishment and Organisation Officer of the Ministry of Labour, and he was subsequently Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions. Mr. Allam is a practising land agent with wide experience in estate management, and is a past member of the Council of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and has acted as chairman of its agricultural and forestry committee, and he has also been President of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. In the light of this examination, it will be necessary to consider further the organisation of the Department and the functions and organisation of the Land Commission.

I turn to the question of the disposal of agricultural land. In the past the conception of the Agricultural Land Commission has been that it would retain the management of properties even after improving them. It is no part of this Government's philosophy that the State should continue to own and manage any agricultural land suitable for sale. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] After discussion with the Commission, I decided early last year that, after any necessary improvement, land should be sold wherever this can suitably be done. It will not be possible in all cases. For instance, much of the land on airfields or intermixed with Forestry Commission properties would not be suitable for sale. Nevertheless, the decision is an important one and will progressively take effect.

This leads me to the general question of the policy which the Government have had under consideration for some time, namely, the disposal of agricultural land which was acquired compulsorily or under threat of compulsion and is no longer required for the purpose for which it was acquired. The extent of this problem should not be exaggerated. Departments do not normally buy land outright unless they expect to need it permanently. The question of releasing it, therefore, seldom arises, except when there has been extensive acquisition on threat of war or during war. Current cases are mostly concerned with acquisitions immediately before the war or during the war. The long-term problem should be a very small one indeed.

The Government have decided that where agricultural land which was acquired compulsorily or under threat of compulsion is no longer wanted by the original acquiring Department or immediately by any other Government Department possessing compulsory purchase powers for a purpose for which the use of those powers would be justified, then the land will be sold. This means that transfers of such land from one Government Department to another will not be made in future unless at the time of transfer the receiving Department could and would have bought the land compulsorily if it had been in private ownership.

Let me give an example to the House of how that will work. Suppose the War Office had compulsorily acquired agricultural land for a training area and no longer wanted it for that purpose. If the Air Ministry currently wanted it for a bombing range and would have taken steps to acquire it compulsorily for that purpose, if the land had been in private ownership, the land in that case would be transferred to the Air Ministry.

It is a matter for consideration whether, except in time of emergency, provision ought not to be made for some form of public inquiry in the event of objection to the transfer by the former owner or other persons interested. Considerations of national security and the possible need for quick execution of essential defence plans would, of course, naturally be important factors, but the land would not be transferred to one of the Agricultural Departments to manage as agricultural land because those Departments would have no power to buy such land compulsorily.

There is one exception which we must make to this rule, and that is where agricultural land has been so substantially altered in character while in possession of a Government Department that if it were sold it could not be used for agriculture in the same way as when it was originally acquired. The obvious example of this is where an airfield has been made with concrete runways, hangars and other buildings, and the original ownership boundaries have been obliterated. The problem of making the best use of the remaining agricultural land on such an airfield is not an easy one. Often such work as drainage, and fencing, and sometimes the provision of buildings, is necessary.

In such circumstances the land may need to be retained in public ownership, at any rate while being rehabilitated, and would be transferred for management to the Agricultural Department concerned. Subject to such exceptions as airfields, these new arrangements will in future preclude the transfer to the Agricultural Departments of agricultural land which was acquired compulsorily or under threat of compulsion by any other Government Department, and this will mean that such a transfer as took place at Crichel Down from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Agriculture will not happen in future.

Where land is to be sold in accordance with the general policy I have just outlined, the Government have considered what attitude to adopt towards claims by former owners or their successors to buy it back. The Government recognise that the former owner or certain of his successors may fairly claim that they should be given a special opportunity to buy such land. There may be cases where this cannot be done. The whole character of the land may have been altered, for instance, by the erection on it of buildings other than agricultural buildings, or, as I have said already, by the laying down of concrete runways on an airfield, in such a way as to make it impracticable to restore the former boundaries: or it may have been compulsorily acquired under the Agriculture Act, 1947; or, again, there may be small parcels of land left over from land acquired for, say, trunk roads or forestry which may not be suitable for resale to the former owners. There are also cases where Departments have statutory powers of acquisition for the purpose of ensuring that land is used in a particular way, and in order to ensure such use they may have to sell it for special purposes. This is true, for instance, of acquisitions by the Board of Trade under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945.

These are only some examples of the circumstances which may relate to a parcel of land and so make any rigid rule impracticable. It will also sometimes be a matter of difficulty to decide whether the successor in title has a special personal claim.

Nevertheless, the Government will in future consider each case on its merits with the desire that, where circumstances show that the land can properly be offered to a former owner or his successor who can establish his claim, this will be done at a price assessed by the district valuer as being the current market price. This procedure cannot be applied retrospectively; it can only apply to future disposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The Government have given further consideration—

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying, ire effect, that property will be sold to a former owner at a lesser price than someone else is prepared to pay for it?

It will be at the current market price as assessed by the district valuer. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at this in print, he will see how it is proposed to work.

No, it will be at the current market price as assessed by the district valuer.

The Government have given further consideration to the future of the land at Crichel Down. I have already explained to the House how I reached the decision in 1952 that, on agricultural grounds and with proper regard for financial considerations, the right course was to equip the land as one farm. I have already explained that I considered very carefully the claim advanced by Commander Marten, but came to the conclusion that this did not outweigh the agricultural case.

In the circumstances at that time, when maximum production was essential, I am confident that my decision was right, but today, two years later, the food situation has materially altered for the better, thanks to the work of the present Government. Moreover, as I have just said, the Government have now made the important new decision that where a former owner or his successor can establish a special personal claim, he will, where possible, be given a special opportunity to buy land back when it is no longer wanted for Government purposes.

The Government would be prepared, so far as lies within their power, to apply the new procedure to Crichel Down, even though it cannot in general be applied retrospectively. There are, however, practical difficulties in applying the policy at Crichel Down. The land there is already let to a tenant, and there is an obligation to equip it. The land could be sold with vacant possession only if Crown Lands were justified in giving the tenant notice to quit or if the tenant were ready to surrender his tenancy. In my opinion, Crown Lands could not justifiably serve a notice to quit on the ground that this was in the interests of efficient farming or estate management—which in this case is the only ground on which my consent to a termination of the tenancy could be sought and given under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948.

The sale of the land would, therefore, only be possible subject to the tenancy and to the obligation to equip the land on the scale proposed. So long as the present tenancy stands, such a sale could clearly be to only one individual and not to the three successors of the former owners. It is possible that the three successors of the former owners could agree among themselves that one of them should be the sole purchaser of all the land. If so, I should be prepared to sell the land, subject to the tenancy and the obligation to equip, to one of the successors of the former owners.

I have nearly finished, Mr. Speaker. I am afraid that I have detained the House rather a long time—