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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 609: debated on Wednesday 15 July 1959

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British Army

Exhibitions, Scotland

3.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on the purpose, nature, and results achieved by the "Meet Your Army" displays now being held throughout Great Britain, indicating how many have been held and in which places, with special reference to the display in Aberdeen on 10th and 11th July, 1959.

The exhibition which visited Aberdeen last weekend is organised by Scottish Command to encourage recruiting for the Regular and Territorial Armies. It includes displays by demonstration teams and exhibition stands giving information about various branches of the Service. Twelve large towns in Scotland are being visited.

One hundred and forty thousand people have seen the show so far, 20,000 of them at Aberdeen. This is a gratifying response to the efforts of the organisers and those taking part.

Sergeant James Walker

4.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on the death of Sergeant James Walker, Territorial Army, 151 Cairnwall Drive, Mastrick, Aberdeen, and of Q Battery, 275 Highland Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, Territorial Army, who was killed during the weekend 4th–5th July while on military service; and what provision will be made for his dependants.

I should first like to express my sympathy with Sergeant Walker's family in their loss.

Sergeant Walker was a motor cyclist on convoy duty with his unit travelling to their annual camp. He collided with a vehicle in the convoy and was fatally injured. His family will be entitled to a pension from the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. The rate and conditions will be the same as for a member of the Regular Army whose death is due to his service.

Is not the hon. Gentleman in a position to make a more concrete or definite statement with regard to compensation for this death which occurred in the course of and arising out of the man's military service?

As the hon. and learned Gentleman doubtless knows, the rate of pension will, of course, be that for an Army sergeant. I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman also knows that this rate is higher than that for a civilian.

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell the House whether a court of inquiry was held, and, if so, what its findings were, and whether, if it found that the soldier was not guilty, the War Department instructed the Treasury Solicitor to take action on behalf of the family of the deceased soldier in order to recover damages from the offending party?

An Army board of inquiry has been held, but it has not yet published its findings. With reference to the hon. Gentleman's other point, as he knows, in the case of an inquest in Scotland, it is in the normal way for the Procurator Fiscal to decide, and he has not yet decided on this point.

Okehampton Firing Range

5.

asked the Secretary of State for War why his Department has erected a blockhouse on Okehampton Common within Dartmoor National Park without consulting the local planning authority.

A small hut has been built to hold equipment on the Okehampton firing range. No approach was made to the planning authorities because the building is inconspicuous and does not affect the use of the area by the public.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for this information, but will not he agree that it is not altogether satisfactory? Is it not also the case that where an area of common land is enclosed the rights of commoners have to be extinguished by an application to the Minister of Agriculture? Has such an application been made?

The Question referred to planning authority. This is a range which has been in use for some while and we needed moving target equipment which had to be housed in a hut which is 20 ft. by 20 ft. by 10 ft. high. It is nothing very serious, and it does not in any way alter the character of the land in question.

Guardsmen (Hot Weather Dress)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether shirt sleeve order will be given automatically to guardsmen stationed at Chelsea Barracks and elsewhere during the hot weather.

It is customary for soldiers who are not on ceremonial or formal duties to work without jackets in hot weather. This is a matter which is left to the discretion of commanding officers.

Is the Minister aware that at Chelsea Barracks men were kept in full dress even on days when the temperature was very high? Will he ensure that instructions go out that when the temperature rises men can work in shirt sleeves?

As to full dress at Chelsea Barracks, presumably the hon. Member is referring to scarlet tunics and bearskins. That dress is worn on formal occasions. The soldier is not unlike the hon. Member in this respect. In day-to-day work, in the heat, he equips himself as reasonably and as sensibly as he can, but he is prepared to put his coat on and be formal when occasion demands.

1St Battalion, Cameronians

8.

asked the Secretary of State for War what immediate action he is taking to investigate the facts relating to discipline contained in a letter from a soldier serving in the 1st Battalion, Cameronians, a copy of which has been passed to him.

Is the Minister aware that allegations of this sort have a very serious effect upon the families of the men concerned? Will he see that immediate inquiries are made with reference to this matter, and also give instructions to senior officers in an area of this sort that when inquiries are being asked for, and a Question is on the Order Paper of the House of Commons, they should not make comments to the effect that the allegations made are completely untrue?

In answer to the first part of the hon. Lady's supplementary question, the allegations concerned ill-treatment, by an N.C.O., of soldiers undergoing sentence. Charges have now been preferred against the N.C.O. which will settle the matter one way or the other. I have in mind the comment to which I think the hon. Lady is referring, namely, the remark made by the General Officer Commanding, East Africa. What he said was that it was absolute nonsense to talk about any question of mutiny in the unit concerned, and with that I profoundly agree. This is not in any way symptomatic of the very high spirit and morale which exist in the unit.

Naafi Canteen, Helmstedt

9.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will give an assurance that no steps will be taken to close the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes' canteen at Helmstedt.

Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that this canteen has a symbolic and social value, apart from any economic value? His reply will be generally welcomed.

Personal Case

10.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he has considered the request for the release of Private A. A. Probert from the Army, sent him on 10th June, by the hon. Member for Swindon; and if he is aware that this soldier is due to be sent to Germany shortly.

The answer to both parts of the Question is "Yes, Sir," An account of the circumstances of this case was sent to the hon. Member yesterday.

Since the Secretary of State is also here, may I draw his attention to the fact that this case was taken up with his Department on 20th June, and that it was not until I put down a Parliamentary Question that I got any answer yesterday? If there were special features accounting for this long delay, will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what they were or, if there were not, will he ensure that this does not happen again?

We have looked into this case with great care. Two points are involved; first, the question of hardship and, secondly, the question of the release of the man concerned as a skilled worker. On both grounds we found that a sufficient case was not made out. For any delays which took place I take full responsibility, and I apologise.

Post Office

Stamped Envelopes

12.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will arrange for larger square stamped envelopes to be available to the general public.

I propose to put on sale a new envelope in the "international" size 6·4in. by 4·5 in. embossed with a 3d. stamp. I hope this envelope, which is larger than either of the two we sell at present, will meet my hon. Friend's needs. The new envelope will replace the present "commercial" size envelope, will be of the same colour, and will be sold at the same price. It will, of course, be a few months before the change can be made.

Will my right hon. Friend charge the public a penny for each envelope, as at present, in addition to the cost of the stamp?

It will be the same price as at present. I do not think that it is a penny for the envelope.

Notepaper And Forms (Standard Sizes)

14.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will consider the rationalisation of paper sizes used for Post Office notepaper, forms, etc., on the basis of the international standard sizes now in common use abroad, and supported by the British Standards Institution.

Yes, Sir. I have decided to make a start on this, and supplies of Post Office headed notepaper will shortly be produced in the international "A" sizes only. Thereafter, I hope the field of application of these paper sizes will gradually be widened.

Can my right hon. Friend indicate what advantages are likely to ensue from the adoption of these international sizes? In view of the welcome lead that he is giving in this matter, is he in a position to say whether other Government Departments will follow his excellent example?

I cannot reply for other Government Departments, but if they do not change it will not be my fault. All I can say is that the savings are in time and money. For example, there will be a reduction in the number of sizes. This will mean lower stocks of paper, and standardisation over the whole country. It will also mean that when the paper is bisected one side will still have the same relationship to the other. [Interruption.] That is very important, as the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) knows. If we can possibly get a standard of envelopes and stationery in this country, so that there is always the same relationship between one side and the other, we shall have made a great advance.

Is not this the first step to automatic handling of this stuff inside sorting offices?

I quite agree. This is a most important question of saving for the whole country. I hope that I shall be able to persuade the other Government Departments and also the House of Commons to adopt the same sizes.

Sub-Post Offices

16, 17 and 18.

asked the Postmaster-General (1) whether he will give his consent for a sub-post office to be opened on the Mowmacre Hill Estate, Leicester, in view of the fact that old-age pensioners are being forced to walk down and return up a steep hill in order to collect their pensions with the consequent accidents and ill effects on their health;

(2) whether he will revise the regulation which militates against the opening of a new sub-post office within one mile of an existing office so as to make it clear that it shall not apply when there is hilly ground to be traversed by members of the public, and in particular by old-age pensioners, in consequence of the serious hardship caused in many cases by the close adherence which exists to the regulation;

(3) if he is aware that old-age pensioners are suffering from accidents and ill health by reason of the excessive distances they have to walk to post offices to draw their pensions; and if he will take powers to enable him to pay compensation for such accidents attributable to his refusal to open sufficient new sub-post offices to obviate these dangers.

With permission, I will answer Questions Nos. 16, 17 and 18 together.

I am looking into the particular case the hon. Member mentions, and will write to him. In the meantime, I can assure him that in deciding whether a new post office can be justified, we do take into account the points he makes. I am afraid that I could not accept responsibility for any accidents that might happen to people on their way to and from post offices.

May I seek your advice on this matter, Mr. Speaker? I have asked the Minister three Questions which are distinct from each other. The first was a local Question, the second a general Question, and the third referred to compensation. It is extremely difficult for me to ask supplementary questions, unless they are very lengthy, in respect of three such Questions which have no direct connection with each other. I should like to know whether I may be entitled to ask supplementary questions on each Question.

The effect of the right hon. Gentleman's Answer was to say that he did not know anything about the situation and was making inquiries. That was the basis of his Answer, which seemed to be of general application. The hon. Member may ask a supplementary question if he wishes to, so long as he does not choose to turn it into a point of order instead.

I accept your Ruling with a little reluctance, Mr. Speaker. I want to put three supplementary questions First, with regard to the first Question, in which I have asked specifically about a subject with which the Minister should be fully acquainted, because there has been a considerable amount of correspondence about it, is he aware that there are 150 old-age pensioners on the Mowmacre Hill Estate who have to go down a very long, steep hill?

In Leicester. From the point of view of old-age pensioners, may I ask the Minister if he is aware that there have been a number of accidents, and that for a considerable time an application has been made for a sub-post office? Is he further aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction about the matter, and will he go into it and see that a post office is provided as speedily as possible? With regard to—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

The hon. Member has had an Answer to his first Question, namely, that the Postmaster-General is making inquiries and will write to him when they are completed. I think that is reasonable. On the second point, it seems to me that in his supplementary question the hon. Member covered all his points.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had an Answer, and I think that ought to satisfy him.

This is a matter in which there is a question of regulations for the whole country, and I have asked a Question of the Postmaster-General. I want to know from him what he proposes to do with regard to the whole matter in respect of the regulation——

—and whether he is prepared to compensate people who, owing to disabilities, suffer from accidents?

All I can say is that we are making further inquiries on the spot, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman after we have had the inquiry on the spot. The point is that pensioners can always get someone else to collect their pensions for them if they so desire.

In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I propose to raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment.

Telephone Service

Advertising Expenditure

13.

asked the Postmaster-General how much his Department spent, in the latest year for which information is available, on advertising to persuade people to make more use of telephone facilities.

In the year ending 30th June, 1959, we spent approximately £70,000 on Press advertising.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that this was a useful expenditure of money? Why should people be persuaded to telephone more than they want to? Would it not be better to keep the lines clear for those who really want to get through and not encourage people to add themselves to the waiting list when others are unable to get through?

I can only hope and pray that the hon. Member never becomes Postmaster-General. The more traffic we have the greater profit we make. In 1958 there was an upward trend in trunk traffic, and in 1959, so far, we are 12 per cent. above the 1958 figure. The more that people telephone the better it is, because the more profit we make. I am sure that the hon. Member wants a nationalised industry to make a profit.

Personal Call Service

15.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will arrange for the Post Office to announce the name of the caller when operating the personal call service.

This is the normal practice, except where the caller withholds his name or asks the operator not to announce it. If my hon. Friend has a particular case of difficulty in mind, I shall be glad to make inquiry.

Capital Expenditure

19.

asked the Postmaster-General to what extent it is estimated that total capital expenditure on telephone plant and equipment and telephone buildings in the financial year 1959–60 will differ from that in the financial year 1958–59.

Is not the situation very unfair to over 140,000 people who are waiting for telephones, a large proportion of whom have no chance of getting a telephone in the immediate future?

Not when we bear in mind that even with this expenditure we hope to continue reducing the waiting list, as we have done in the past. It all depends on the demand, and one cannot forecast that. Although we are spending less on some equipment, and the hon. Gentleman's Question pinpoints that, we are spending more in other directions. For instance, in 1959–60 the expenditure on telegraphs is £3·3 million against £1·8 million in 1958–59. One must take regard of the picture as a whole.

Is not this a very serious statement, in view of the reduction in capital expenditure? To increase the number of telephones will require a lot of new buildings, because the present ones are already full up. Why spend this extra money on the telegraph service, in view of the deficit? Would it not be more sensible to develop the telephone service? Is the Minister aware that we are increasing our telephones in Britain at a slower rate than any country in Europe?

The waiting list is less than it has ever been. When the hon. Gentleman talks of expenditure on telegraphs he forgets that Telex, the latest and most modern device for sending messages with the speed of the spoken word and the accuracy of the written word, is included in telegraphs. It is important that the use of Telex in this country and elsewhere should be increased.

Subscribers

21.

asked the Postmaster-General the net increase in the number of telephone subscribers estimated for the current year; and the net increase for each of the past five years.

For the current year the estimated net increase is 155,000. For the five years 1954 to 1958, the net increases, in round figures, have been 210,000, 270,000, 205,000, 70,000 and 85,000. I am circulating the detailed figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that information. May I ask him if it is a fact that the rate of demand has now fallen very considerably? Does he not think that the time has arrived when extra steps should be taken to stimulate the demand for telephones, especially in view of capital investment on the automation side?

As a matter of fact, the demand in the last few months has been increasing, not declining, and we are quite satisfied that the demand is all right as far as we are concerned.

The detailed figures are:

1954210,755
1955271,121
1956204,071
195769,553
195886,925

Applications

22.

asked the Postmaster-General how many persons applied for telephones in the current year to the latest convenient date; and bow many applied in each of the past five years.

Applications received this year, up to 31st May, have numbered 181,313. In round figures, the applications in the five years from 1954 to 1958 have been 450,000, 500,000, 385,000, 365,000 and 375,000. I am circulating the detailed figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The detailed figures are:

1954447,019
1955504,148
1956386,926
1957363,334
1958373,446

Exchanges (Equipment)

23.

asked the Postmaster-General to what extent his Department has reduced its orders for the supply of engineering equipment for telephone exchanges; and what plans he has for the further extension of telephone exchanges to meet fully the demand for telephone services.

Orders this year will be appreciably higher than last year. The programme for next year is dependent on decisions to be reached by the Government on public investment, but I hope that we shall maintain, and possibly improve on, the present programme.

May I ask the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that some of the men employed in factories making telephone equipment have been warned about redundancy, and that there is considerable concern about it? In view of the admitted increased demand, to which the Postmaster-General has referred, and the waiting list for telephones, can the right hon. Gentleman make a public statement or do anything to assure the people working in the factories making this equipment that they are not likely to be out of work in the next twelve months?

If the hon. Gentleman will send me details of the people who have been told they are likely to be redundant, I will look into the matter. Orders this year will be appreciably higher than last year, and I hope that next year they will be higher still.

Rayleigh

24.

asked the Postmaster-General how many telephones have been installed in Rayleigh in each of the years from 1950 up to the latest convenient date in 1959; how many applications are still outstanding; and what provision is being made for increased demand for telephones arising out of the rapid growth of population in the area.

One hundred and fifteen applications are at present on the waiting list and, in addition, 43 are in course of being met. The telephone exchange at Rayleigh has capacity to meet growth. New cables are, however, needed, and will be provided progressively between now and July, 1960.

With permission, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the number of telephones installed at Rayleigh in each year since 1950.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him if he is aware that the population in this area is increasing at the highest rate of growth in the country? While I have no complaint against the telephone engineers, who make do with what resources they have, may I ask my right hon. Friend to see that a more generous allocation is made to enable the waiting list to be reduced?

I am glad to know that productivity in Rayleigh in certain directions is increasing. The cable scheme in hand will provide for all waiting applicants.

Following are the figures:

195038
195184
195259
195381
1954154
1955170
1956249
1957300
1958258
1959160 (to 30th June)

Royal Air Force

Aden (Schools)

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what has been the increase since 1955 in the number of children of Royal Air Force parents requiring school places at Khormaksar and Steamer Point, Aden; when this increase became known; and why there has been such a long delay in adjusting the schoolbuilding plans.

Since 1955 the number of children requiring places at Royal Air Force schools in Aden, including children of naval, military and civilian parents, has risen from 400 to 1,000. The increase has been a progressive one, and it was not until 1958 that we realised the present figure was going to be quite so large. Because of the successive increases the schools now to be built have twice had to be redesigned.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I raised this question on 18th July, 1956, and that the then Under-Secretary of State for Air, who is now Secretary of State for War, then said that he realised that the position was unsatisfactory. He went on:

"That is why we are planning to go ahead and build this new primary and secondary school. We hope to be able to start early next year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1956; Vol. 556, c. 1185.]
That is to say, in 1957. Is he aware that nothing has been done to build either a new primary or a new secondary school for these children of the increased number of families there in this period of time? There has been a delay of over two years? Is this not a case of disgraceful neglect on the part of the Royal Air Force?

I do not think it is anything of the sort. I do not want to appear complacent about this, but it was no good going ahead with new schools if they were going to be hopelessly inadequate. We have twice had to start all over again, and that is why there has been the delay.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman make some plans to provide for the children who are going there? Surely, it is the responsibility of the Air Ministry to see that some sort of educational provision is made for the children of R.A.F. parents who it is known are going to these places? Is it not the fact that for over two years no increased provision has been made?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the population, both of R.A.F. and of naval, military and civilian personnel, has been rapidly increasing in the last few years. We have had to try to bring our school plans up to date.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Air when it is expected that school places will be available for the fifty children awaiting admission to school at the Royal Air Force base at Khormaksar and Steamer Point, Aden.

We hope to have school places for all the children who need them in time for the January term next year.

Is it not a fact that for a considerable period of time a very large number of the children of Royal Air Force families have been without educational provision? Has not this been due to lack of planning and competence on the part of the Air Ministry and failure to provide for the expansion of schools at this base? Is it not a fact that there is no real reason why this should have taken place, but that it happened because of sheer negligence?

About 160 children of Service families in Aden attend civilian schools. Fees of those who are unable to get into Service schools are paid from Air Votes.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Air when he expects to receive the report of Her Majesty's Inspectors on Royal Air Force schools in Aden; and if he will publish the recommendations contained therein.

I understand that the report will probably be ready by the end of the month. Reports by Her Majesty's Inspectors are customarily treated as confidential and I see no reason to make this an exception.

Will the Secretary of State for Air make a statement as soon as this report is available? Is it not a fact that it was admitted by the Air Ministry that accommodation for the children of Royal Air Force families at these bases was totally unsatisfactory in 1959 and that nothing has been done during the intervening time, except for the provision of a couple of huts, because of the argument that the plans have to be adjusted to the increasing numbers of families? Is not the result that a large number of children are without provision for education today, and will the Minister promise to take urgent action to see that these children are provided with some opportunity for education?

I told the hon. Gentleman that we are making urgent provision. We hope that all the children who want to go to Service schools in Aden will be able to do so by January.

Recruits, Worcester

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Air how many Regular airmen have been recruited through the Royal Air Force recruiting office and publicity centre in Worcester in each of the years since it was established.

I will with permission circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT figures for 1949 onwards. Figures for earlier years in which we were recruiting on Regular engagements are not available.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the expense of publicising the recruiting centre at Worcester is justified?

Following are the figures for men and women recruited into the ground trades on Regular engagements through the Recruiting Office at Worcester. Comparable figures for aircrew are not available.

AirmenAirwomen
194931Not recorded
1950157Not recorded
195143628
195242719
195330820
19542437
195517011
195612912
19579411
19588612

Recruiting Offices

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Air in how many towns he has established Royal Air Force recruiting offices.

How does the Minister decide where the recruiting centres are to be established?

We review the situation from time to time in the light of recruiting figures. In fact, we are at present reviewing this part of the recruiting organisation. If we find certain changes are necessary we shall certainly make them.

Aircrew

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what steps his Department is taking to ensure that potential recruits for the Royal Air Force are made fully aware that Service opportunities for flying and a full career for pilots are likely to continue for many years to come, notwithstanding current changes in defence policy.

Our continuing need for aircrew and the full and varied career which the Royal Force can offer are emphasised in our recruiting literature, in advertisements in the national Press, and by officers visiting schools and universities. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this opportunity to emphasise once more that we shall need aircrew of the highest quality for as far ahead as we can foresee.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that there is a widespread impression among young people who are potential recruits for the Royal Air Force that the airman of the future will be some sort of automatic troglodyte pressing buttons in a subterranean cave? Is it not necessary to give the maximum publicity to the fact that the traditional qualities of pilotship, courage and daring are still required, and will be required for many years to come?

Certainly a year ago there was such an impression, but I believe that statements made recently by my right hon. Friends and myself have done a great deal to put this right.

Habbaniya

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Air the total expenditure on the air base at Habbaniya from the time of its establishment to that of its abandonment.

Certainly. This base at Habbaniya played a vital part in pre-war days in maintaining internal security by the use of air power. During the war the existence of this base and the gallant action against Rashid AH buttressed the Allied position in the Middle East.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was some concern when this base was finally evacuated? In the circumstances, can he tell the House whether any claim has been made on the Iraqi Government for compensation? Is the Royal Air Force acquiring any assets for the base? Are we negotiating the terms of the transaction?

Quite a large quantity of movable equipment which was there has been sold or brought out.

Cyprus

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Air the total expenditure on the Royal Air Force in Cyprus since its establishment as a base up to the present time; and what further expenditure is to be incurred there.

About £10 million has so far been spent on construction for the Royal Air Force in Cyprus. I cannot forecast how much will be spent throughout our future tenure.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Randolph Churchill said recently that the purpose of this air base is to bomb the Soviet Caucasus? Does not he think it a dangerous thing to invest £10 million of British money in a place which could be so easily destroyed by a rocket?

I cannot comment on what was said by Mr. Randolph Churchill. It is true that Cyprus has become increasingly important as the only base of the United Kingdom in the Eastern Mediterranean from which we can protect our interests in that area.

Prestwick Airport (United States Aircraft)

33.

asked the Secretary of State for Air to what extent additional facilities are being given to the United States Air Force to use Prestwick Airport as a result of the new arrangements for additional United States aircraft to be stationed in Great Britain.

I cannot at present add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence on 8th July.

Can the Minister do anything to allay the anxieties of the people who live in that part of Ayrshire? Is he aware that there is an opinion that these arrangements will mean that it will be more exposed as a potential target, with greater danger to the people in that area?

Is the Minister aware that there is absolutely no civil defence in this area? What does he propose to do to assure the civil population?

The words used by my right hon. Friend on 8th July were:

"They will be stationed at airfields which are already in use by the United States Air Force. The detailed plans for the move will be worked out between the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1959; Vol. 608, c. 1631.]

Air Lifts

34, 35 and 37.

asked the Secretary of State for Air (1) the reasons which made it necessary to ask the United States Air Force to provide aircraft to lift equipment from Britain and Germany to Jordan in July, 1958, in connection with the move of units of the 16th Parachute Brigade to that country; and whether he will make a statement.

(2) the date on which the United States Air Force was requested to provide aircraft to carry equipment from Britain and Germany to Jordan in connection with the move of units of the 16th Parachute Brigade to that country in July, 1958, the number and type of aircraft provided by the United States Air Force for the purpose, the weight of equipment lifted from Britain and Germany to Jordan, and the corresponding information in respect of the move of equipment from Jordan to Britain and Germany in October and November, 1958:

(3) whether he is satisfied that sufficient British freighter aircraft are immediately available at the present time for carrying out moves similar to that made by units of the 16th Parachute Brigade to Jordan on 17th and 18th July, 1958; and whether he will make a statement.

Royal Air Force aircraft are fully able to carry out an airlift on the scale undertaken last year in Jordan and the capacity of our transport force is steadily increasing. The initial airlift of forces to Jordan on 17th and 18th July last year was undertaken by the Royal Air Force. United States Air Force aircraft took part with the Royal Air Force in the subsequent airlift to maintain British forces in Jordan as part of the joint measures for meeting the Jordan Government's request for assistance. Between 22nd July and 10th August, they carried some 1,500 tons of fuel and freight to Jordan. No United States Air Force aircraft took part in the airlift of personnel and equipment from Jordan in October, 1958.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the use of Lockheed aircraft by the Royal Air Force was an essential part of the Jordan operation? Will he give the House an assurance that if the same situation arose today, or in the foreseeable future, we could carry on independently of the United States Air Force?

Yes, Sir. It was very good that this joint operation should have happened, because we were working side by side. Having said that, I should add that it would be quite wrong to suggest that it implies any inadequacy in the available forces of the Royal Air Force.

Then will the right hon. Gentleman say what is all the fuss about the Britannic? Surely, there must be a gap which will last for five years. It is clear that this country must depend on the United States, and that there is no aircraft to fulfil the rôle which the Britannic will fulfil—assuming that we ever get the Britannic.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, most of the equipment to be carried by the Britannic is not yet in service with the Army. It is true that we could not carry it now, but we shall be able to by the time it is in service.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) about indecent haste over the Britannic is hardly borne out by the facts?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the latest publication issued by the Conservative Central Office on the subject of defence, entitled "The Missile Years", the impression is given that the airlift to Jordan was carried out by private British companies? In view of the information which the Minister has disclosed, will he see that future editions of the publication are corrected?

National Service Men, Christmas Island

36.

asked the Secretary of State for Air why certain National Service men have been retained on Christmas Island for more than twelve months without leave.

Is the Minister aware that a firm promise was given to these men when they departed for Christmas Island that they would receive extended home leave within twelve months and that the failure to redeem this promise has led to considerable discontent and uncertainty, and avoidable anxiety to their families?

I have told the hon. Gentleman that I am making inquiries. The tour of duty in Christmas Island is twelve months. The only thing I can think of which would cause some slight delay in repatriation is a difficulty about transport. I do not know whether that was so in this case.

Civil Aviation

Belfast Airport

38.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he has completed his inquiries and will now make a statement with regard to Nutts Corner and Alder-grove airfields and the future of Belfast Airport.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
(Mr. John Hay)

The report of the joint study has now been completed and my right hon. Friend is considering it in consultation with the Secretary of State for Air. He hopes to be able to announce a decision before the summer Recess.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I assume that he will be aware that the Answer to a Question asked in February, 1958, was that an expenditure of about £500,000 would be made for this airport. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend may have changed his mind since then, but I would ask him to see not only that an announcement is made before the end of this Session but that the work will be commenced at a very early date. I hope that he will give me some assurance on these points.

I told my hon. Friend that we are doing all we can to press on with this matter, but the report is one that has to be studied and considered carefully. We hope to announce a decision before the Summer Recess, not before the end of the Session.

Independent Operators (Licensing Arrangements)

42.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether, in view of the recent Report on the Southall air disaster, he will now introduce, as a matter of urgency, new licensing arrangements to ensure higher standards of equipment, personnel, and efficiency on civil air lines.

46.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what steps he proposes to take, in the light of Mr. Justice Phillimore's Report on the Viking air crash on 2nd September, 1958, and his criticisms of the aero-plane's owners, to ensure that no similar state of affairs can ever again exist in an aircraft operating company.

47.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if, in view of the public disquiet about the conditions, as revealed in the inquiry Report, under which Independent Air Travel had operated, he will detail the steps he has taken to ensure that such conditions are not again permitted by companies licensed by his Department.

The aircraft, premises, operational equipment and organisation of British civil aviation firms engaged on scheduled service work are already inspected by my professional officers who exact a high standard. I have also been considering for some time a system of additional licences whereby no firm could engage in any public air transport operations unless they held an appropriate licence. Detailed proposals are now being prepared but they will involve new legislation.

How does the right hon. Gentleman square the first part of that Answer with the happenings in this disaster, which has deeply shocked the nation, and still more with the Report on it, which has deeply shocked every thinking person in the country? What does he think the reaction on his own side of the House would have been if a publicly-owned airline had been involved? Does he not think that it is a reflection on his own Department that this kind of murder by private enterprise has to take place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—before the right hon. Gentleman is goaded into action?

The hon. Gentleman should not allow his dislike of private enterprise to colour his judgment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If the hon. Gentleman studies this matter very carefully he will find that this company had already been prosecuted by my Ministry and that, in fact, another prosecution was pending when the accident occurred. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Other than that, I have no comment to make on the Report of Mr. Justice Phillimore.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the shock which is felt in the country about this accident is very largely on account of the apparent lack of control which the Minister has, and has had for a very long time, over all these companies that operate in the air and which in fact can indulge in tourist activities? Why is it that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken action before? Although no one doubts that, on the whole, the safety of these companies is very high, how do we know—in the absence of inspection by the right hon. Gentleman—that there are not several other bad firms of this sort that may bring about further disasters? Is not the negligence of the right hon. Gentleman, in not taking action before, a contributory factor in bringing about this tragedy?

Of course, that is nonsense, if I may say so. The fact is that all these firms are already inspected, including the air Corporations and every other firm, and, as I said in my original Answer, they are inspected to a very high standard. The right hon. Gentleman should not draw broad, general conclusions from one isolated instance.

If it be the case that this airline was prosecuted and the Ministry was dissatisfied with the firm, why did the Ministry let it go on flying? Had this firm any trooping contracts on behalf of the Government for the transportation of troops? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Ministry comes clean out of this? This was a terrible disaster. I would renew the question which was asked earlier, which is, what would Government supporters have said if this airline had been B.O.A.C. or B.E.A.? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Why do the Government cover up, merely because this was a private enterprise company?

I do not propose to pursue this matter on party political lines. My Department is completely impartial—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in the technical tests that it makes to, as I have said, a very high standard. This company was not engaged in trooping, if that interests the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), but that is not my concern. My concern is to be impartial about air safety. I have come to the conclusion, as I have said, that there would be some advantage in having a general licence, as indeed the independent operators have so asked me. That legislation is being prepared, but it is legislation, and time will have to be found for it.

The Minister talks about a new form of licence, but is not the problem here not new regulations but the enforcement of the old regulations? In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman makes a point about the stringency of the inspection which he carries out, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that, although he has this confidence in those inspections, there is evidence, which I can give him, that Lloyds underwriters had refused to insure this firm, even at the time when his Department was allowing the firm to operate?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all responsible sections of the industry will welcome what he has said about licensing and that, indeed, members of the British Independent Air Transport Association are keen that the regulations should be tightened so that this sort of unfortunate occurrence should not happen again?

I quite agree that B.I.A.T.A. has been very active in seeking broad safety in the air, as it is also the duty of my Ministry, and I do not accept that this one very tragic accident is capable of the conclusions the Opposition are trying to draw from it.

44.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what reply he sent to the letter of 28th April last year from the British Independent Air Transport Association asking for new licences which would ensure a high standard of operation among all airlines.

I welcomed the Association's initiative, all the more because my Department was already considering the same problem, and I arranged for detailed discussions. At the Association's dinner last year I indicated how my ideas on this problem were developing. Detailed proposals, taking into account the Association's views, are now well advanced but, as I have just said, will require legislation.

Is not it clear that if the Minister had acted much earlier, by legislative means and/or administrative means, to bring about an effective control of these small companies, it is quite likely that this tragedy might never have occurred?

Dh121 Aircraft

49.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he is aware of the redundancy at the de Havilland Aircraft Company works at Hatfield, caused partly by the delay in placing the contract for the D.H.121; and what steps he is taking to urge British European Airways to accelerate this matter.

As explained on 13th July by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, the contract for the D.H.121 is a matter between the operator and the manufacturer. I have no reason, however, to believe that British European Airways is not as anxious as anyone to expedite matters.

Whilst I am grateful to my hon. Friend, may I ask if he could emphasise to B.E.A. the extraordinary urgency of this matter, from the point of view not only of employment at Hatfield, but also of the export potential of these aircraft?

I do not think B.E.A. needs any urging on this. It is well aware of its importance.

Air Accident, Anzio (Report)

51.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation when he expects to publish the report of the inquiry into the air collision near Anzio.

The report is at present being translated. As soon as possible after my right hon. Friend has had time to study the translation, he will consult the Italian Government about publication.

Will the Minister press the Italian Government strongly for permission to publish this report, which is of great interest to airline pilots in this country?

Yes, the publication of reports made by foreign Governments is normally a matter for agreement with those Governments, but I do not think we shall have any difficulties in this case.

Shipping

New Cunard Liners

39.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will now make a statement on Government policy concerning the proposal to build the new "Queen" liners.

The Government's consideration of the Cunard Company's proposals is not completed and I am not at present in a position to make a statement.

Can the Minister give an assurance that we shall have a statement on the matter before the House rises?

No, Sir. I am not prepared to give such an assurance. This is a long and very complicated matter and we must have time to study it.

Shipping Conference, Washington

43.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what further development he is able to report following his attendance at the Washington Shipping Conference.

45.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will give some further information about the continuing informal machinery which is to be set up to consider international shipping problems, following the recent talks in Washington.

Discussions between the European Governments which took part in the Washington talks are proceeding and we are considering what the best arrangements would be. An approach will be made to the United States Government as soon as conclusions have been reached.

In view of the parlous state of our shipping industry at present, and also that of some other maritime countries outside the United States, can the right hon. Gentleman offer any prospects of a favourable response on behalf of the United States Government? Does he realise that unless there is a favourable response to the shipping interests of this and other non-American countries we shall be compelled to take retaliatory action?

We established in Washington a good identity of view between all the European nations which have a very strong view on this matter. We are most anxious that we should go forward to the Americans with our case quite clearly agreed between us. It has taken a little time to do this, but I think we shall very shortly be arranging with them this informal committee, to which we attach great importance. The delay has at least meant that our representations to the American Government will be joint representations by all the European nations concerned.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his initiative in going to Washington was most welcome and that it appears that since then there has been some evidence of a change of heart by the American authorities in the case of Ecuador? Will he do what he can to see that the effects of that initiative are not lost and that this is a continuing effort to get something done belatedly, but at all times bring to bear on the Americans the intense resentment felt about any continuation of these wretched practices?

I quite agree with my hon. Friend that one does not get quick results in this sort of thing and we must keep up the maximum pressure. I hope I can record it as the sense of the whole House that we should make some progress with our American allies on this very difficult problem.

Roads

Street Lighting

40.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will introduce legislation to enable his Department to act as a street lighting authority and to provide that street lighting installations shall rank for Treasury grants on the same terms as other road improvement schemes

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
(Mr. Richard Nugent)

Not at present. I recognise that the law in relation to street lighting could be improved, but it would be premature to consider altering it until we know the result of the street-lighting survey at present being made.

Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell me of any steps taken by his right hon. Friend to induce the Government to support a programme modernising his own Ministry, which would include powers of street lighting similar at least to those enjoyed by parish councils?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I undertook to make a survey of street lighting on class 1 roads, but we have to ask for the co-operation of local highway authorities in order to do that. This is still in course of being done, although we are getting near the end. The authorities have not all replied yet. When the survey is completed and we are able to study it, we shall be able to take a clear view of what is needed.

Road Junction, Paddington (Traffic Lights)

52.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he is aware of the frequent traffic congestion, even outside peak hours, at the junction of Bayswater Road and Westbourne Terrace, Paddington; and if he will arrange for the installation of traffic signals.

To obtain a satisfactory signal scheme, Bayswater Road would need to be widened by taking in land from the Royal Parks. Victoria Gate itself is now being widened; before deciding on the complicated signal system which my hon. Friend's suggestion would require, we would like to see the effect of this improvement on traffic movement.

Improvements (Overtime Working)

54.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to what extent, when considering whether to authorise road construction and improvement outside the normal five-day week, his Department compares the extra cost of the overtime working with the additional economic benefit to the community from the consequent reduction in traffic congestion and improvement in the flow of traffic.

Contract periods for each scheme are settled individually and take into account all factors including cost, effects on traffic and nuisance to local residents. Within these considerations I am well aware of the importance of road works being completed at the earliest possible time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large part of the cost of the delay caused by traffic congestion falls on motorists, both private and commercial, who already pay enormous sums by way of taxation for road construction? Are they not entitled to further consideration from the Treasury in this matter?

Most of the large road schemes in the country are on schedule and a good many are ahead of schedule. I do not think one can do better than that. One has to plan these things with some regard to the fact that some residents do not like road works going on at night.

Transport

Institute Of Advanced Motorists

41.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what progress he has to report in the contribution to road safety made by the Institute of Advanced Motorists; and if he will make a statement.

I am informed by the Institute that during the three years ended on the 31st May, 17,910 advanced driving tests were conducted. 10,437 candidates passed, and 7,473 failed. The percentage of candidates who return for a retest after failing the first time shows an encouraging increase. The improvement of driving standards is the most important single element in our dive for road safety. By offering facilities for an advanced test of driving technique the Institute of Advanced Motorists is playing a most valuable part, for which I am grateful, in our campaign to bring about safer conditions on the roads.

While thanking my right hon. Friend very much for that statement, which will be widely appreciated indeed, may I ask whether he does agree, in view of the important lessons which we have learned by the application of these tests, that it would be very good if, say, 100,000 people took these tests next year?

There is great scope for this. I think the test improves driving standards and hope that I may commend it to all hon. Members in this House too.

All I can say is that I think the Institute is not testing nearly enough people, I hope that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) will give a lead by taking the test himself if he has not done so.

Highway Code

48.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will reconsider his decision to omit the overtake signal from the new Highway Code.

There is nothing in the new Highway Code which bans the pleasant courtesy of the signal "I am ready to be overtaken", and I hope all motorists will use it when appropriate. It has been left out because on the advice of the Road Safety Committee I decided to limit the signals shown in the code to those indicating drivers' own intentions.

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask if he is aware that a number of schools of motoring regard this as a most useful signal which leaves following traffic in no doubt as to a driver's intention? Will he give serious thought to the fact that, by cutting this out, he might be depriving some of those who study the code in future of a most useful signal?

I think this House is to discuss the matter later this week. All I shall say now is that we must be careful to limit hand signals, so far as we can, to those which must always be made. This signal is a courtesy signal which I hope will be made, but which is not necessarily a mandatory signal.

Motor Vehicles (Direction Indicators)

50.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what progress has been made towards a mandatory requirement for the fitting of direction indicators on all road vehicles.

We are proposing to amend the present Regulations in order to achieve a greater degree of standardisation in flashing direction indicators Until we have some experience of the effect of these changes, I think it would be better not to make direction indicators compulsory.

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the sooner we can make some progress in this matter the greater safety there will be on our roads?

I warmly agree with my hon. Friend. It is a very complicated, technical matter to establish standards suitable for all circumstances at home and abroad. We are near reaching agreement with the manufacturers, and I shall certainly see what can be done to hasten it.

Learner Drivers

53.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if his attention has been drawn to a recent case in which a learner driver under instruction was driving six passengers one of whom was killed; and if he will reconsider the conditions under which learner drivers are permitted to carry passengers.

The information available to us indicates that this accident did not take place on the public highway.

We are at present reviewing the general conditions governing the driving of motor vehicles by learners, and we shall include in this review the question of the number of passengers who may be carried.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the number of occasions on which one sees a learner-driven car filled with passengers, often children? Cannot we do more than is done at present by instruction and education to let such people know that driving a car is not just a matter of an outing, but is a desperately serious business?

Yes, we take into account the view of my hon. Friend, but I am sure the House would not wish us to be unnecessarily restrictive about deciding what passengers can be carried by learner drivers.

Railways

Modernisation Programme (Report)

55.

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation when he proposes to publish the reappraisal by the British Transport Commission of the financial prospects of the railways; and what action he proposes to take in the matter.

I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to my reply last week to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies).

Can the Minister tell us specifically that he intends to publish the Report before the House rises, together with a declaration of Government policy on the matter? Can he tell us whether the very important story, published this morning in the News Chronicle about this Report, has any accuracy in it?

I am afraid that I have not read the News Chronicle and I therefore cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman. Replying to his main inquiry, I hope that it will be possible to lay the Report before the House some time next week. I must not anticipate the paper, but there is no Government reply called for by this Report, which is a very factual and detailed survey of what the Commission hopes to do to put its own house in order.