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Commons Chamber

Volume 564: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1957

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House Of Commons

Wednesday, 6th February, 1957

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Television

Ita (Money Prizes)

5.

asked the Postmaster-General what representations he has made to the Independent Television Authority about the large money prizes now being distributed by programme contractors on commercial television.

Do I take it from that reply that the Postmaster-General takes such a poor view of his obligations to this House now that when the Act has been breached in two types of programme he takes no action at all? Is the Minister not aware that undertakings have been given by the Government that no prizes of significant value would be allowed, yet that is happening on at least four programmes and is planned for others? Is he not going to take action to protect this House?

The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman may be based on misapprehension and misreading of Section 3 (3) of the Act, which requires the Authority to avoid giving substantial or significant prizes to viewers of television programmes, and not to those taking part in them. So far that provision has not been offended against.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that on 20th January one advertisement provided for the giving away of chairs to viewers and that another one is planned for next week, and that that type of prize-giving is entirely different from the one which has been discussed in this House before?

Yes, Sir, but any programme of that kind which appeared to offend against the provision of the subsection would certainly be drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that anybody who appears on television and wins a substantial prize must not thereafter be a viewer?

Post Office

Advisory Council

6.

asked the Postmaster-General how often the Post Office Advisory Council met in 1956.

Was it not the practice of the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when Postmaster-General, of only having meetings of this Council coincident with impending or already decided increases in the tariff?

Yes, Sir, but I think there is no significance in any such coincidence of meetings. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend to convene an early meeting of the Advisory Council to discuss various matters.

Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Postmaster-General to give sympathetic consideration to a suggestion which I have made to a number of his predecessors that ways and means should be found of using on that Advisory Council the wide knowledge and experience of the Post Office staffs?

I will draw my right hon. Friend's special attention again to what the hon. Gentleman says.

Stamps (Robert Burns Bi-Centenary)

7.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is yet in a position to announce the designs and colours for the various denominations of stamps which he intends to issue to commemorate the 200th anniversary in 1959 of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns.

I am aware of the strong desire in Scotland to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Burns, but I have nothing to add at present to the information which has already been given to the hon. and learned Member in reply to his earlier Questions and letters on this subject.

As a matter of policy, would it not be good for the Postmaster-General to begin to pay some honour to our great men instead of leaving it to Russia and other foreign countries who have honoured our great men in this way?

One of the complications in doing what the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests is that we would have so many great men to pay tribute to that it would be difficult to choose one against another. I will, however, draw my right hon. Friend's attention to any representations that are made by the hon. and learned Friend.

Telephone Service

Kiosks, Norfolk

8.

asked the Postmaster-General how many new public call telephone boxes were installed in the county of Norfolk during 1955 and 1956; and how many it is anticipated will be provided in 1957 and 1958.

We provided 28 kiosks in Norfolk in 1955 and 47 in 1956; this year we hope to provide about 45 and about the same number during 1958.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the special importance of telephone kiosks in scattered rural areas, especially in cases of illness and other emergencies, and will he do all he can to increase the rate of installation, not only in Norfolk but in all other rural areas?

Yes, Sir, we are aware of the importance of kiosks in rural and remote areas. We do a lot, often at great cost to the Post Office, to see that this amenity is available.

Royal Air Force

Beverley Aircraft

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Air how many Beverley aircraft are now in service; and how far these aircraft are suitable for dropping parachute troops as well as for troop and freight transport.

Twelve Beverleys are now in service. All are suitable for dropping parachute troops.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether in the recent operations in the Eastern Mediterranean these aircraft were used either for the dropping of parachute troops or for transport purposes?

Is the Secretary of State aware that, as long ago as 1953, we were told that in 1952 20 of these aircraft were ordered? What has happened to them? Surely they are needed today? Is not this another indication of the failure of the present Minister of Defence when he was Minister of Supply?

All the aircraft of the second squadron have been delivered and will come into service during next month, or as the crews are trained.

Personal Case

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Air in what circumstances Senior Aircraftman J. Williams No. 4084295, of Coventry, returned home on sick leave from the Air Force Hospital at Wroughton; and why his Department will not reimburse the cost of Senior Aircraftman Williams' travel.

The airman had applied for leave although he was still unfit to travel by ordinary public transport. Leave was granted because he said his parents would fetch him by car. Neither he nor his parents have made any claim towards the cost of the journey, but I have decided that it would be right to allow the cost of the railway warrant he would have been given if he had been fit to travel by rail.

While appreciating the modification in the Minister's former attitude, when he declined to give any financial reimbursement to this airman, may I ask him whether it is not the case that this young man suffered multiple injuries while on service in Germany, that his parents flew out to him and used up much of their life savings in order to do so, and that, although he was encased in plaster, he was only offered a railway warrant, despite the fact that he was unable to sit in a normal sitting position? In view of these facts, is not the Minister being rather parsimonious in offering him only the equivalent amount of the railway warrant? Will he not extend his sympathy a little further and pay the whole amount of the cost of the car which was necessary in order that he could travel from the hospital to his home and back?

I appreciate the point which the hon. Gentleman has made, but I do not think it would be right to use public funds in this way for an airman to travel back by means of his own choosing and at a time of his own choosing. I think it is fairer and better to use the normal procedure, by which he gets the cost of a railway warrant and can set it off against the petrol for the car which his parents used.

In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment as soon as possible.

Vulcan Bomber Accident, London Airport (Report)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether the recommendations in the report of the special investigation by Dr. A. G. Touch into the Vulcan bomber crash at London Airport on 1st October, that military aircraft should not land at civilian airports under bad weather conditions, have yet been considered; and what instructions have been issued to carry out this recommendation.

Dr. Touch's recommendation related only to military aircraft of advanced design. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and I have agreed that any proposals involving such aircraft will be specially considered by the two Departments in the light of the flight characteristics of the aircraft, the familiarity of the crew with civil procedures, and the suggested weather limits for landing.

Arising out of that reply, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will have the matter speeded up for early decision? Is he aware that this was a special recommendation by Dr. Touch, and that this is a vital matter for the large civilian populations living round London Airport and near other civilian airports? If the right hon. Gentleman can speed up a decision, I shall be much obliged.

As I have said, agreement has already been reached between my right hon. Friend and myself.

Royal Auxiliary Air Force

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will discuss with the civil air operators and representatives of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons methods whereby co-operation between the Auxiliary squadrons and the civil air operators would enable, at a negligible cost, the flying knowledge, experience and enthusiasm of much needed aircrew, obtained at the cost of many millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, to be retained for use in a national emergency.

I am afraid I cannot justify the additional expenditure which such a scheme would involve in the light of the need for economy and of the various resources already available to supplement Transport Command in emergency.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his Answer is most unsatisfactory, as until he has had an opportunity of discussing methods it is quite clear that the actual cost cannot be known? If it is only a few hundred pounds, surely it is worth while preserving the experience of trained aircrew on whom many millions of pounds have been spent?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is relating all this to the Auxiliary squadrons or not. I do not want to emphasise the practical difficulties in the way of the scheme which he has put forward, because he knows them very well, but the Auxiliary squadrons were an integral part of Fighter Command and, before we decided on their disbandment, we did consider very carefully whether there were alternative schemes in which we could employ them valuably in the face of a nuclear threat. This is one of the things which we went into with great care, but we came to the conclusion that we could not go beyond what we have done.

Does not that answer show the need for further discussion of this matter?

Directorate Of Work Study

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Air how many officers have been established as a result of the introduction of the Director of Work Study; and what economies in manpower have resulted.

Seventy officer posts are at present established in our work study organisation. The work which is being done follows on from the excellent work done by the Manpower Utilisation Committee and the Manpower Research Unit. The hon. Member will understand that it is not possible to isolate manpower savings due directly to the formation of the Directorate of Work Study.

While it is not possible to isolate them in that way, cannot the Under-Secretary give us some indication of the savings due to this scheme? Also, what about the widespread feeling amongst senior officers as a result of the establishment of this unit that they can leave to this unit all questions of manpower economy instead of regarding it as part of the normal day-to-day functions?

I am afraid I am not in a position to give numbers at present, because the Royal Air Force is changing owing to re-equipment and changes in the front line, which makes it impossible for me to compare like with like. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the work of this Directorate is additional to the normal machinery for controlling and examining the establishments of different units throughout the Royal Air Force.

Fighter Command

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Air, in view of the fact that fighter aircraft are useless against long-range missiles, if he will reduce Fighter Command as a step towards scrapping it; and if he will state the approximate total annual saving in manpower and money which abolition would secure.

Fighter aircraft are effective against manned bombers, which will threaten us for a long time yet. It would not be in the public interest to disclose the proportion of our resources devoted to particular commands of the Royal Air Force.

Since both America and Russia now possess guided rockets, and since the main rôle of fighters is in interception, is there any need for all this money and manpower going down the grid on defence which is no defence?

I can only repeat what I said—that we still have to defend ourselves, and will have to do so for some years to come, against manned bombers.

Roads

Humber Bridge

18.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will now assign a priority in the Government's road building programme to the construction of a bridge over the River Humber.

I regret I can offer no hope of including a new Humber bridge in the Government's road programme in the foreseeable future. The City of Hull, on behalf of the other local authorities concerned, have been informed of my reasons.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a considerable sum of money has been spent in investigating the difficulties in building such a bridge, and that such a bridge would be of great value, not only to Humberside but to all the eastern counties? Will he therefore keep the scheme under review?

Yes, I certainly will. It is only fair to the interests involved, however, to make it plain that it has not great priority at the moment.

What has happened to the priority which was promised by many of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors for the Severn Bridge? Where does that come in?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would not mind putting that Question down. It is quite a different Question.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, in considering the question, that some years ago the Severn Bridge project had a much higher priority than this bridge, or even than the Forth Bridge, which is now placed higher up on the list? Is he also aware that many people in South Wales, the Midlands and the West Country would not like the Severn Bridge to be put at the end of the queue?

The House might be surprised to know how many bridges I have on my list, all claiming top priority.

Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten the immense importance of the Humber bridge to North Lincolnshire, and will he not give some sort of priority or some indication that he does regard this as a serious project which will be put into operation at some time in the near future?

I have given an indication in my Answer that there is no hope of including it in the road programme in the foreseeable future.

Bromsgrove By-Pass

28.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, if he will make a statement on the possible date when work will start on the construction of that part of the Bristol-Birmingham motorway which will serve as a by-pass to the west of Bromsgrove.

I saw a deputation from Worcestershire County Council about this on 23rd January, and I undertook to consider, and let them know as soon as possible, when I could fit this scheme into my programme. When I am in a position to do this I will also write to my hon. Friend.

Cross-Roads, Pool (Traffic Lights)

29.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what are the prospects of traffic lights being installed at the dangerous cross-roads at Pool in the urban district of Camborne-Redruth.

On the technical advice before me it does not appear that traffic lights would improve conditions here.

Is the Minister aware that I am amazed by that statement because, in the last big traffic census—about three years ago—it was shown that about eleven vehicles a minute passed over this cross-road on the A.30 road, which is extremely dangerous for traffic from the northern approach to get into the westerly stream? Will the right hon. Gentleman see whether something cannot be done about this problem?

I shall certainly do that. I am sure the hon. Member knows the cross-roads very well and will realise that the physical layout makes it very difficult for traffic lights to be installed there.

Eastern Avenue Extension

42.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he has any further statement to make in respect of the projected extension of the Eastern Avenue through the borough of Leyton.

A survey of the proposed Eastern Avenue extension has been completed, but the line may have to be altered at the western end where it would join the proposed Lea Valley Road. The Leyton Borough Council has been asked therefore to survey the line of the Lea Valley Road so as to fix the position of this junction.

Can the Minister give some idea when all these extra inquiries may be completed, particularly in view of the fact that a number of householders are still very apprehensive about what their position will be when this project is carried through, and it will help them a great deal to have the information available?

I will do my best, but much of the information is not yet in my hands.

Shipping

International Convention (Owners' Liabilities)

19.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, since no reply has been received from the Belgian Government to the request made in 1956 through Her Majesty's Embassy in Brussels with regard to the date of the international conference to consider the 1955 draft convention relating to the limitation of liability of owners of seagoing vessels, what further representations have been made to the Belgian Government by Her Majesty's Government; and what instructions he has given to prepare for such an international conference in 1957.

Although no official reply has been received. I understand through the International Maritime Committee that the Belgian Government are proposing to issue invitations to a conference in October, 1957.

Could my right hon. Friend say whether his Ministry is prepared to take part in that conference, and that it has its plans prepared for it?

Canals

Bowes Committee (Evidence)

20.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will now give an assurance that all written evidence is now in the possession of the Bowes Committee on the future of the canal system.

Will my right hon. Friend do everything he can to expedite the arrival of this written evidence, because the time is running on far too long? When it is available, will he ask the Committee to come to its conclusions as early as possible, especially in view of the fact that the British Transport Commission is to raise contentious matters in the form of a Private Bill and those matters could best be left until the Committee has reported?

I am quite at one with my hon. Friend in wanting to get this Committee its total evidence so that it can complete its work, and I will do my best to get it speeded up.

Is it not extraordinary that nine months after the appointment of the Committee it has not yet got the written evidence and, presumably, it will want some oral evidence? Does this not show that our suggestion that the setting up of the Committee would mean one or two years' delay in settling the urgent problem of the canals will prove to be true?

Not at all. It is no use having a Committee of this kind unless it takes the widest possible evidence. It is certainly not the fault of the Committee that some important national bodies, in spite of one or two applications, have not been able to give it what it asked for.

We suggested that the fault was in setting up a Committee when all the facts were well known and the whole problem could have been dealt with a year ago.

It was not so. The facts were not known, and that was the purpose of setting up the Bowes Committee.

Civil Aviation

Aircraft, Stanstead

21.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what has been the average number of aircraft in his Department's fleet at Stanstead; what is the total number of flying hours flown by the unit over the past four years; and in how many accidents of all kinds these aircraft have been involved over the same period of time.

The average number of aircraft employed during the last four years has been 17, and the average number of hours flown annually per aircraft has increased from 330 to 490. During that period there has been one accident substantial enough for notification under the Accident Investigation Regulations: in addition, there have been five minor incidents.

The Minister will know that an accident can be an accident without coming under the purview of the investigating committee. In view of the comparatively few hours these aircraft have flown, would it not appear that there would be quite a number of what the right hon. Gentleman has described as minor accidents? Will he look into that?

I shall not bother the House with the list of accidents, although I have it in front of me, but I will give it to the hon. Member, who will see that they are of a minor character.

In view of the low rate of their utilisation, would it not be advisable to dispose of these aircraft?

That is not so, because these aircraft are used in calibration and on checking of radio aids near major airports. Therefore, a great deal of time is spent in preparatory work before the aircraft does its actual flight. I have looked into this question most carefully, and I am satisfied that, if we are to maintain our safety standards which I regard as of overriding importance, these aircraft must go on being used.

Helicopter Air Stations

23.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what consideration he has given to the provision of adequate helicopter facilities in London and other centres.

My Department has investigated a number of possible sites in the London area, but a decision cannot be taken until more is known about the operating characteristics of twin-engined transport helicopters now under development, and the extent of the demand. Outside London the provision of air stations will be primarily the concern of local authorities, but my Department will continue to supply technical data as it becomes available.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. In view of the considerable progress and development of helicopters, will he get in touch with producers and make sure that this country does not lag behind or inhibit development by failing to foresee our needs in this respect? Would he not accept that this country with its great density of population is eminently fitted for the use of helicopters on a very wide scale?

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. What he has said is most important. We are keeping closely in touch, but the difficulty is that what looks like the first really efficient passenger-carrying helicopter is, I am afraid, still some years away.

Has the idea of a helicopter landing stage on the River Thames definitely been abandoned? That would provide an opportunity for landing facilities in the heart of London.

Prestwick Airport (Diverted Aircraft)

30.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation how many additional movements of civil aircraft there were in and out of Prestwick Airport last December due to London Airport and other airports in the country being fogbound.

Forty-nine aircraft were diverted to, and later departed from, Prestwick.

Does that make the Minister realise the importance of Prestwick Airport to civil aviation? Does he know that if it had not been for Prestwick movement of civil aircraft to and from this country during a period in last December would have been completely stopped? Will he now take steps to ensure that Prestwick is able to receive heavy aircraft in all types of weather, which at present is not the case?

The hon. Member will know that the new control tower for Prestwick has been designed and work will be started on it next summer. On the question of runway requirements, particularly for new large jet aircraft, we do not yet know enough about their performance to make decisions for Prestwick or any other airport, but I do regard Prestwick as a most important airport.

In view of the tribute the right hon. Gentleman has paid to Prestwick, will he promise that the many words which have been spoken in its favour will now be turned into deeds?

Select Committee On Estimates (Report)

36.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what steps he is taking to meet the recommendations of the Select Committee on Estimates concerning the loss on the running of the airports.

My comments on the Select Committee's recommendations will be found in Appendix I to the First Special Report of the Committee. The most important recommendation was that landing fees should be increased. Because British aircraft pay landing fees abroad, unilateral action to increase charges might cause repercussions which would injure our interests and adversely affect our balance of payments. I have therefore preferred to wait for the report of the International Conference on Airport Charges, which I am now studying, before taking any steps to increase these fees. There will certainly have to be increases, but their pattern also needs full consideration so that they may not fall unfairly on any particular section of the air transport industry. I hope to announce a scheme soon.

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he has taken steps in this direction, but is he aware that the answers he has given up to now to the Select Committee on Estimates would appear to indicate that he has been treating that Select Committee in an extraordinarily off-hand way? Can he assure us that it is his policy to see that the large and efficient airports, on which a great deal of public money has been spent, will, as soon as possible, be made self-supporting, and not a burden on public funds?

I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman, but it is my duty to see that the safety of the service is maintained, and that I intend to do.

Whilst disagreeing with some of the criticisms made by the Select Committee about the running of our airports, and especially with the misplaced criticism of the Permanent Under-Secretary's remark about going out and getting business, may I ask the Minister if he would not at the same time agree that the Select Committee's recommendation that there should be trading accounts should be looked into again very carefully; and would he give an assurance that the note which he proposes to append to his Estimates will be a very full one, and that the full trading accounts will be published as soon as possible?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words about the Permanent Under-Secretary of my Ministry, whose remarks, I think, were completely and unfairly misconstrued. With regard to trading accounts, I will certainly look into that, as I am most anxious to make this as commercial a transaction as possible.

North Atlantic Services (Medium-Range Aircraft)

40.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what progress has been made in the development of a medium-range aircraft suitable for the North Atlantic services and operable in all weathers from Prestwick.

No medium-range aircraft is being developed specifically for the North Atlantic. All versions of the Britannia and the Comet IV will be able to operate from Prestwick in all weathers. Of these, the long-range Britannia will be able to make the crossing non-stop.

Does the Minister not recollect that during the debate on the Air Corporations Bill in November he said that the D.H.118 would be a machine not only suitable for the North Atlantic trade but one which would fit in with the runway requirements at Prestwick? As the D.H.118 appears now to have vanished, like so many dreams associated with Prestwick, what is the right hon. Gentleman going to put in its place—the Britannia?

The D.H.118 is not for the moment being considered, because there do not appear to be overseas sales prospects for it, but some other aircraft will have to be bought in its place. That aircraft will, I hope—indeed, I am sure—be suitable for Prestwick.

Did we not say in that debate in November that there were no prospects of overseas sales because of the delay following the cancellation of the V.1000? Will the Minister now say what new facts have come to light between that date and the cancellation of the D.H.118?

Pilots

49.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what plans he has to ensure the future supply of civil airline pilots.

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply given to the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) on 30th January. Since then I have discussed the matter with a deputation led by the Chairman of the Air League of the British Empire, and I am considering their views.

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the Secretary of State for Air the question of trying to use Royal Auxiliary Air Force pilots who are being thrown on the scrap heap? It would not cost the State anything. Could they not be employed as supernumerary pilots not only in the great Corporations but in private companies? Surely they could make some use of them?

I have already discussed that question, and I hope some advantage will be gained from it.

As this is not a new problem, but one which has been discussed in the House during a period of years, how soon will it be before we may expect the right hon. Gentleman to make up his mind upon it?

is the hon. Gentleman referring to recruitment or to the Auxiliary Air Force pilots? To recruitment? The question of recruitment depends very much on the position of the Royal Air Force. That, no doubt, will become clearer in the next few months. We shall keen the position under review.

Vulcan Bomber Accident, London Airport

50.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether the recommendations of Dr. A. G. Touch, arising out of his investigations of the Vulcan bomber accident at London Airport, have now been considered; and what instructions have been issued.

Dr. Touch's recommendations are being carefully examined. Most of them require a good deal of thought and experiment before decisions can be reached, but instructions will then be promulgated without delay. As regards Dr. Touch's recommendation concerning military aircraft of advanced design, I would refer the hon. Member to my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter).

Is the Minister aware that the most important of the recommendations of Dr. Touch from the point of view of those who live around the airport is the first recommendation, which suggests that aircraft of advanced design ought not to be allowed to land at the airport in bad weather? Would it not be possible to give an instruction on that simple point immediately and thus remove many people's very serious apprehensions?

My right hon. Friend said earlier today that both he and I hope to come to an agreement on that point.

Railways

Taxicabs (Station Ranks)

24.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission instructing them not to use their powers under the Railways Act, 1840, to prosecute taxi drivers plying for hire in station ranks, in view of the recommendations of the Departmental Working Party on Hackney Carriages.

Does the Minister not realise that there have been prosecutions in Newcastle which amount to little more than special protection for a particular type of monopoly? In view of the expressed views of the Government, whether real or not, is it not high time that something was done about that, especially in view of the report of the Departmental Working Party?

If the hon. Member has a problem in Newcastle, I shall be only too pleased to look at it, but this is not a matter on which I am giving a general direction.

This is not only a matter concerning Newcastle but many other cities where there are restrictions on taxicabs plying for hire in station approaches. Is this not a matter which the Minister ought to look into more carefully, as it has been raised in this House before?

I have looked into it very carefully, and I am advised that there have been very few prosecutions.

Is it not high time that the whole practice of British Railways taking fees from a few taxis at stations was abolished? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many cities, including Leeds, passengers are kept waiting for taxis in the station approach when there are taxis outside which are not allowed to enter the precincts of the station? Will he see that the whole thing is done away with?

Certainly it would not be proper for me to give an assurance that the whole thing will be done away with. If the House wishes me to do so, I will certainly have another look at the matter. The view of the Commission, of which I must take notice, is that primarily this is done for the convenience of passengers.

Modernisation Plan

34.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will make a statement about the co-operation he is getting and expects from the staff of British Railways in carrying out the modernisation plan.

I do not think that I need add anything to what I said on the Third Reading of the Transport (Railway Finances) Bill, when I referred to the importance of continuing co-operation between management and men if the modernisation plan is to succeed, and to the very great support which the trade unions have given to the British Railways Productivity Council.

Will the Minister remember that on that occasion he said that unless there was full co-operation by the staff in working this modernisation plan the railways might have to be sold up and disposed of? Is he aware that that threat has caused considerable resentment in many quarters of the staff? As the threat is nonsense in any case, would he like to withdraw it?

No. On 20th November the British Transport Joint Consultative Council, which the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, said that the trade unions, and, indeed, the whole of the staff, pledged the maximum support to see that the affairs of British Transport. and particularly British Railways, are put on a sound footing. I wish them well in that task, but it is my duty as Minister to point out that it has to be carried out if they are to justify the very large sums of public money which are being provided for modernisation.

Nobody questions that. What I am asking the Minister is whether he will qualify or completely withdraw the ridiculous threat that if a certain standard of co-operation is not forthcoming —and I am sure it will be—then our railway system will have to be, in his own words, sold up and disposed of. Surely that is a ridiculous thing to say. I suggest that he should withdraw it.

The right hon. Gentleman is putting a quite improper gloss on what I said. Perhaps I may repeat what I said. It was in answer to an interjection by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones). Of course the railways need the co-operation and support—and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; I think it will be forthcoming—of all who work for them, if they are to succeed. If they did not get that co-operation—and that is what the hon. Member said—then the whole thing would go bankrupt, and, indeed, would have to be disposed of in some way or another. I do not withdraw that statement at all.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of us, on this side of the House particularly, support him entirely in his attempt to confront this vital industry with the necessity of facing the facts as they are? Does he not also agree that there is a great failure to exercise efficient and intelligent management? Many loyal servants of the railways, who have served them for years, leave the railways with a feeling that their services have not been adequately recognised.

I think this is a job for everybody on the railways, and nobody wants them to succeed more than I do. I do not think the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) disagrees with that. I only hope that they will be allowed to press on and to get on with the job.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that for a quarter of a century before the railways were nationalised they conspicuously failed to pay their way and that if the right hon. Gentleman's cure for that had been followed we should have no transport system in this country at all?

Transport

Coal (Road Transport)

27.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what further steps he is taking to divert the transport of coal from road to rail in view of the fact that the present figure of 64,000 tons diverted weekly is still below what could be reasonably achieved.

In accordance with my instructions, regional transport commissioners are being very strict in issuing supplementary rations of motor fuel for road movement of coal, especially over long distances, unless they are satisfied that the coal cannot reasonably be moved by another form of transport.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the figure of 64,000 tons a week is enough?

No, I am not. I think the target figure which we ought to try to achieve is much more like 250,000 tons. I am in close touch with the Commission and the Minister of Power to see whether we can get a better figure.

Is it not true that a great many power stations and opencast coal sites are right out in the country and it would not be very economic to put this coal on a lorry and take it for a short distance to the railway and then have to unload it again at the other end to be taken to country districts?

Driving Tests (Resumption)

32.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation how soon he anticipates being able to allow the resumption of driving tests.

38.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he has yet reached a decision as to the resumption of driving tests in view of the hardship caused to the employees of motor-driving schools.

43.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he is aware of the inconvenience caused to many businesses by reason of the fact that they are unable to get new drivers owing to the absence of driving tests; and whether, in view of the fact that large firms are allowed to carry out their own driving tests for their employees, he will either extend this facility to more firms or alternatively reintroduce driving tests for commercial drivers forthwith.

44.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he is yet in a position to announce when driving tests will be resumed.

My examination of the arrangements for fuel rationing gives me reason to hope that it will be possible to resume driving tests on a limited scale in April.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this statement will give a good deal of satisfaction, especially in relation to the problems of road safety? It is clearly undesirable to postpone for too long the training and testing of those who wish to take their place on the roads.

Will the Minister's welcome statement about this limited amelioration of the present position mean that employees of the driving schools will be looked after from the employment point of view?

The employees of the schools are nothing to do with me. I have been advised—and I think correctly —that the best way I can help the driving schools, as I am most anxious to do, is to announce the resumption of tests at least on a limited scale; and that I have now done.

What does the Minister mean by "on a limited scale"? Does he mean limited to areas or limited in number?

There are roughly 750 driving examiners and at the moment all of them are being used on the fuel rationing scheme. Because we now have the fuel rationing scheme very well under control, I hope to release at least some of them to start a limited number of tests all over the country; but not to start them in one area and not in another.

London Transport Omnibuses

33.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation the average number of miles travelled per hour by London Transport omnibuses on 1st November, 1956 and 1st January, 1957, respectively, or on the nearest convenient dates thereto.

I regret that this information is not available. The British Transport Commission tells me, however, that since there have been restrictions on petrol London Transport buses have been able to maintain their scheduled times.

Is the Minister aware that Sir John Elliott also stated that present conditions in London constitute a busman's dream, with savings in journeys through the West End and the City of from eight to eighteen minutes and with many more passengers on fewer buses? In view of the immense savings which must have been realised as a result, will he not therefore cancel the fares increases, which were imposed only because of the increased cost of petrol?

That was not the point which Sir John Elliott made. The point which he made was that if there were far fewer private cars, bus operators would have a happier time. I have no doubt that he is right.

In view of this great improvement, which is welcomed by all bus passengers, will not the Minister see whether some of the conditions which now prevail cannot be made permanent in order that we can enjoy these better conditions?

I quite agree—but not by placing some kind of ban on private cars entering London.

Road Fund Licences

37.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation for how many cars it is estimated that licences have not been taken out for the first quarter of 1957.

I regret that the information available does not permit me to make a reliable estimate.

Is the Minister satisfied that the petrol coupons that have been issued in respect of those cars have been returned?

Motor Scooters

39.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will suspend the regulations preventing persons who are not holders of driving licences from riding pillion on motor-scooters for so long as such persons are prevented from taking a driving test.

The limitation to which the hon. Member refers was imposed in the interests of road safety; I do not think that the present situation affords sufficient justification for suspending it.

Is not the Minister aware that a number of people have purchased these motor scooters in order to save petrol; that they use them in place of cars and are anxious to be able to use them to the maximum by taking pillion passengers—sometimes their wives—to work with them? Is he aware that they are prevented by the regulations from doing this? For the purpose of the present emergency, will he not look again at this position?

I will look at it again, but it is a very difficult balance between the need for road safety and doing what the hon. Member wants me to do.

Can the Minister say why the learner-driver on a scooter should be more dangerous than the learner-driver in a car? At least the learner-driver on a motor scooter is carrying only one passenger whilst a driver in a car may be carrying four, five or six passengers?

Yes, but the hon. Gentleman knows that the accidents to those riding motor cycles and motor scooters are much worse, pro rata, than to those driving cars.

London Traffic Conditions

48.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will request the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee or other appropriate body to report to him on the improvement in London traffic conditions arising from petrol rationing and to make recommendations as to how such improved conditions can be made permanent.

I have asked the Road Research Laboratory, in co-operation with my Department to investigate, and to report to me as soon as possible on the effects of petrol rationing on traffic in London.

While appreciating that the Minister has taken this action, may I ask if he does not realise that public opinion will now be much more favourable to severe restrictions on the parking of private cars in London and the cluttering up of the main arteries, now that they have experienced the improvement that has taken place, and would it not be incredible folly to return to the situation which we had before the inception of petrol rationing?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman's statement that motorists will be more ready to accept severe restrictions is true.

But does he not appreciate that motorists are only the minority, and that previously it has been that minority, the car owners and car drivers, that has made conditions worse, at the expense of millions of passengers travelling on public transport services daily?

I can see the point and, of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, under the Road Traffic Act it is now possible for the police to tow away motor cars causing an obstruction, and that is one of the steps that might be taken.

Licence Operators (Fuel Allocations)

51.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether allocation of fuel to A, B and C licence operators has now reached an average of 75 per cent. overall of normal consumption.

Yes, Sir, but some operators will have received above the average and some below.

That is a very satisfactory answer, but can my right hon. Friend say where I can find one of these rare birds who has had more than 75 per cent.? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are all affected by the complaints of very large numbers of operators that they have had much less than 75 per cent., and that I, in all my vast experience, have not found one with more than 75 per cent.?

I suggest that my hon. Friend would, perhaps, like to get in touch with one or two people who are on the priority list which was issued by my Ministry. I think he will find they are about average.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my personal experience is that the average is more like 30 per cent. than 75 per cent.? Will he bear in mind that although he may have said he aimed at an overall tonnage of 75 per cent. the vast majority of people read that as meaning that each would get 75 per cent.? Will he take steps to correct that impression, which has caused a lot of trouble?

I hope that my hon. Friend's supplementary question and my answer will be of some aid towards that end. The facts are that my duty is to reduce the total tonnage of consumption of motor fuel in my sector to 75 per cent.

Will the Minister study the reply which was given to me by the Postmaster-General on Monday when I asked for the amounts of petrol allocated to Members of Parliament, because I think he will find—

On a point of order. This Question, Mr. Speaker, relates to goods vehicles. Can you say whether any Members of Parliament anywhere in this House own a goods vehicle?

They may, for all I know, but I think that this is a different question. I was coming to the same conclusion myself.

Furniture Trade (Supplementary Petrol Allowances)

31.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he is satisfied that the arrangements he has made for the allocation of supplementary petrol to furniture manufacturers with C licence vehicles are working satisfactorily; and if he will make a statement.

Yes, Sir. If any furniture manufacturer is in difficulty as the result of the decision of a local office he should appeal as quickly as possible to the district transport officer, and if necessary from him to the Regional Transport Commissioner. I am satisfied that the special problems of the furniture manufacturers are well known to Regional Transport Commissioners, and I am sure that they will be as helpful as possible in dealing with applications from them.

Is the Minister aware that, after reconsideration, some firms have received adequate and even generous allowances, under the circumstances, whereas others, with an apparently equal claim, have received nothing or almost nothing? The machinery which he has outlined involves considerable delay. Will he look into that aspect of the matter and see why there is this apparent differentiation?

The differentiation which the hon. Member mentioned probably arises between firms which have carried out the full appeal procedure and firms which have not. I do not think that any firm which has a genuine case and goes through the appeal procedure will not get a fair deal. It may not get quite as much as it would like but it will not be left entirely without petrol.

Could the Minister give an assurance that the differentiation which existed in allocations between Scottish manufacturers and manufacturers in the South has been eliminated?

My general impression is that Scotland has done rather better than England.

35.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will make a statement on the supply of supplementary petrol to members of the Association of Retail Furnishers, in view of the urgent representations which he has received from that body.

If any retail furnisher is in difficulties over his supplementary ration he should appeal to the district transport officer, setting out his case clearly. My Regional Transport Commissioners are aware of the problems of retail distribution of furniture and will consider sympathetically all such cases.

While thanking the Minister for what he has done to ease the serious position since the Association asked some of us to take this matter up, may I ask whether he is aware that there is still a wide divergence between district and district in the allocation of supplementary petrol for retail furnishers? Will he see that the various districts carry out what we hope is his general policy of supplying supplementary petrol when the men's employment depends on it?

If the hon. Member has any special cases, I hope he will let me have them.

People's League

45.

asked the Prime Minister what proposals for political action by Her Majesty's Government he has received from the People's League with a view to his receiving a deputation; and what was the nature of his reply.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal
(Mr. R. A. Butler)

I have been asked to reply.

The People's League have asked my right hon. Friend to receive a deputation to hear their representations on the subjects of taxation, compulsory purchase orders and the trade unions. My right hon. Friend has informed the People's League that he is not able to receive a deputation, and that he thought it better that the points should be put forward in a memorandum.

Atomic Energy

Peaceful Uses

46.

asked the Paymaster-General, as representing the Lord President of the Council, what action is to be taken to increase the output of power in accordance with the ideas contributed at the United Nations International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy held at Geneva in 1955.

I am informed by the Atomic Energy Authority that, in formulating its programme of research, it has taken into account the ideas contributed at the United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy held at Geneva in 1955, which are now available to everybody working in the atomic field.

Can the Minister give an undertaking that super-priority will be given to those engaged on the construction of power houses, especially in regard to steel and petrol?

47.

asked the Paymaster-General, as representing the Lord President of the Council, what further consideration has been given to the contribution by Sir John Cockcroft on page 409 of Volume 1 of the report of the proceedings of the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, 1955; and what further action he proposes to take.

Sir John Cockcroft's paper dealt with the Contribution of Nuclear Power to United Kingdom and World Energy Resources up to 1975. The Government and the Atomic Energy Authority are keeping this question under constant consideration. Chapters 5 and 6 of the Aomic Energy Authority's Second Annual Report reported the technical progress that has been made since the Geneva Conference.

As some of us are uneasy about recent appointments, will the Minister take steps to see that the noble Lords now in charge of this kind of development will be invited to address the Members of this House in order that we can hear what they have to say and to interrogate them?

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the Reports referred to in this Question are now two years old, and that, in the interim period, the United Kingdom has made technological advances in this field far outstripping those of our overseas competitors?

Does not the Paymaster-General agree that these publications have only just arrived in Britain? As right hon. and hon. Members are the elected representatives of the people, and as those who now have the new responsibilities should be answerable to the elected representatives, will he give further consideration to the request I have made?

I do not know when the Report of the Geneva Conference arrived, but the Report of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, to which I referred, was presented to Parliament in July last year.

Do I understand that the Minister rejects my hon. Friend's proposal that hon. Members should have an opportunity of meeting the new Minister of Power, who is in another place and not acceptable to hon. Members in his assembly, so that we might interrogate him and have our minds illuminated on the subject under his control?

That seems to be quite another point which, I imagine, could not really be discussed arising out of the Question.

Ministry Of Defence

Armed Forces (Review)

asked the Minister of Defence (1) what changes in Her Majesty's Government's military commitments are contemplated as a result of recent discussions within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation;

(2) if he will make a statement on the results of Her Majesty's Government's review of defence policy.

57.

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement about the future training and organisation of the Reserve forces of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.

I am at present reviewing the size and organisation of our Armed Forces. Until my studies are more advanced I would not like to make any statement on these matters.

Is it not a fact that the review has been going on for some time by the previous Government and by the present Minister? Though I appreciate the present Minister's difficult position, can he not answer Question No. 52, which asks what changes in commitments are contemplated? Is it not possible for the Minister to give an answer to that Question? Are any changes contemplated? If so, in view of the speculation in the Press, what do they refer to?

Surely the right hon. Gentleman must still depend upon the volunteer, particularly in the Territorial Army, and is not this continued delay of the Government in making known their intentions a direct discouragement to volunteer? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] On a point of order. If the right hon. Gentleman is not going to answer my supplementary, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Recruitment And National Service

54.

asked the Minister of Defence to what extent Regular recruitment and prolongations of Regular service have been stimulated by the pay increases granted last year; and if he will now review Her Majesty's Government's policy on conscription in the light of these developments.

56.

asked the Minister of Defence if he will state the nature of his reply to the proposal made to him by Sir Vincent Tewson, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, urging that National Service be ended as soon as possible, and that, as a step in that direction, there should be a cut of six months in the two years' period.

The new rates of pay have resulted in increases both in recruitment and prolongations of service. These increases, though substantial, have not yet been sufficient to reduce materially the dependence of the Forces on National Service men. Until I have had a little more time to study this and other related problems I do not wish to add anything to the earlier Government statements made on this subject. I have replied to the Trades Union Congress in this sense.

Does the answer mean that the pay increases are not having the hoped for effect and that the Government will not be able to reduce or change the call-up because there is still a lack of volunteers? Is that the plain position?

Perhaps the hon. Member will study my Answer. I did not say they had had no result. They have had a substantial result, but not sufficient to enable us to say, at any rate at this stage, that we can dispense with National Service, but I am examining the whole of this problem, and I should not like anybody to read into my Answer any far-reaching conclusions.

Is the Minister aware that hundreds of thousands of families are getting fed up with the continual Government hints that they are going to cut the call-up? There have been these hints for a long time and yet nothing has transpired. How much longer have these families to wait?

That is just the reason why I was trying to give no hints in reply to the hon. Member's Question.

In the Minister's review of the manpower situation in the forces will he take note of an article that appears in a daily newspaper this morning by the ex-commander of our forces in Germany, Sir Richard Gale, in which he suggests that we could reduce our forces in Germany by at least 30,000 men?

I have not yet seen the article but, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman says, I shall most certainly read it.

Did the Minister say he would publish the figures on which he bases his Answer? If he did not, would he consider publishing them—the figures of prolongations and recruitment?

British Air Stations, Jordan

55.

asked the Minister of Defence what is the present policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the future use of military bases in Jordan.

60.

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement on the future of the Royal Air Force units and ancillary forces established in Jordan.

The British air stations in Jordan are maintained there under the Anglo-Jordan Treaty. We are at present discussing with the Jordanian Government the future of that Treaty. Meanwhile, I cannot make any statement.

What are the Government's intentions with regard to all the property, equipment and installations of the British Government in Jordan?

I think it would be better to wait for the conclusion of the discussions.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the conditions of the men in the Royal Air Force serving in these stations?

What are the desires of Her Majesty's Government in this matter? They are going into negotiations with the Jordan Government. What do they expect to achieve by them?

Defence Policy (Minister's Visit To Washington And Ottawa)

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

61.

TO ask the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement on his discussions with the United States and Canadian Governments on defence matters of mutual interest.

I will, with permission, Sir, answer Question No. 61.

The main purpose of my visit to Washington last week was to have a thorough exchange of views with the United States defence authorities on a wide range of military matters. Similarly, my two day visit to Ottawa gave me an opportunity of discussing a number of problems of common concern in the military and international fields with the Prime Minister of Canada, the Minister of Defence and the Canadian Chiefs of Staff.

My discussions in Washington with Mr. Charles Wilson, the United States Secretary of Defence, showed that there is full accord between our two Governments on the broad objectives of the defence policy to be pursued. In particular, we reaffirmed the importance of N.A.T.O. and other regional alliances as a vital means of safeguarding peace and stability.

We reviewed the arrangements previously made for collaboration between the United States and Britain in military research and development, with particular reference to guided rockets. It was agreed that both countries had derived considerable benefit from this co-operation and we decided to extend still further our joint work. We discussed a possible scheme for the adoption by Britain of certain American weapons and this is now being examined by the two Governments and their Service staffs.

I explained to the United States Government that, for economic as well as military reasons, we were reviewing the shape and size of our forces and that Her Majesty's Government had decided that a substantial reduction in the demands of defence upon manpower, materials and money must be effected. Although no country welcomes a reduction in the military effort of its allies, I found in Washington a sympathetic understanding of the circumstances which make it necessary for us to lighten our defence burden.

In this connection, it is fully recognised that financial and economic stability is an essential foundation of military strength—

Mr. Harold Davies