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Commons Chamber

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1961

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House Of Commons

Wednesday, 28th June, 1961

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Saint Benet Sherehog Churchyard Bill Lords

Saint Pancras, Pancras Lane Churchyard Bill Lords

Read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.

Glasgow Corporation Order Confirmation Bill

Consideration deferred till Wednesday next.

Oral Answers To Questions

Post Office

Motor Cars (Suppressors)

1.

asked the Postmaster-Genera I whether he will extend the regulations relating to the fitting of suppressors to motor vehicles to include cars manufactured before 1st July, 1953; and whether he will include the inspection of such suppressors in the Ministry of Transport tests for old cars.

The number of older cars not fitted with suppressors is steadily diminishing, and my right hon. Friend does not think he would be justified in extending the regulations as the hon. Member suggests. In any case, my right hon. Friend is advised that suppression tests could not be carried out in the ordinary garages used for the Ministry of Transport vehicle tests.

Could the hon. Lady tell us how long it will be before the situation is reached in which there will be no old cars left without suppressors? Does she not agree that one motor car without a suppressor can cause havoc to scores of television sets? Is it not time that car owners adopted the good neighbour policy?

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, the older vehicles are diminishing at an estimated rate of 250,000 a year, so that it is a rapidly diminishing problem. We recognise the tremendous nuisance which can be caused by cars which are not fitted with suppressors, and we urge everybody to take the necessary steps.

Post Office Sites

4.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is now able to make a statement on the conclusions of the committee which has been studying the future potential of Post Office sites and buildings.

10.

asked the Postmaster-General if he has yet received the report on the use of Post Office sites; and if he will make a statement.

I have now received reports on nineteen Post Office sites from the consultants whose advice I sought. They include reports on the Head Post Offices at Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham. These reports confirm my view that the potential values that might be realised through more intensive development are considerable. I am satisfied that these developments ought to be exploited, both on commercial grounds and in the public interest.

As regards the smaller sites, I have now decided, as a matter of policy, to embark on schemes where commercial development is incidental to Post Office development, where capital for such development is available from normal allocations, and where the return on capital will be substantial.

The redevelopment of the larger sites differs from the smaller ones inasmuch as they require substantial capital, and in some cases much of the development would be for non-Post Office purposes. I am now considering the best method, including sale or leasing, of dealing with these cases.

Will the Minister say to what extent the committee gave consideration to the full utilisation of Post Office land and buildings and whether it stated what percentage is to be earmarked for further modernisation and what percentage is to be used for commercial purposes? Turning to the part of the Minister's statement which dealt with commercial exploitation, will he assure the House that Post Office counter services will not become public inconveniences by being moved to the back streets solely in order to make it possible to capitalise on the best sites?

Taking, first, the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, there is no intention whatever in my mind that Post Office services as such should suffer. On the contrary, we are taking steps now to improve counter services to the general public.

Reverting to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I think that it would be quite wrong to take a broad sweep at this business. Obviously, we must consider all these cases on their individual merits.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the reply he has given so far, but can he give us an idea of the scope of the operation by indicating approximately the number of sites which will be considered and by indicating also the sort of financial return he expects on the capital outlay?

We have about 2,000 postal sites throughout the country and about 8,000 telephone exchanges. Their book value, all told, is about £180 million. I should have thought that the greatest scope for development rested in the postal buildings as such, and my personal estimate is that at least 200 of our postal buildings ought to be redeveloped more adequately during the next five years or so, As regards return on capital, I should certainly hope for a return—and I am sure we can get it— of about 15 per cent.

Mail Van Robbery, Brixton

7.

asked the PostmasterGeneral what was the value of the registered mail stolen from a Post Office van in Brixton last month; and how many postal workers were in the van at the time.

My right hon. Friend does not know the precise value but it was upwards of £6,500. One man, the driver, was in the van.

Will the hon. Lady agree that it would be an additional safety precaution if, when valuable mail is being conveyed, there were at least two people on the van? Is she aware that in the particular case I refer to, with six men attacking one man at 6 o'clock in the morning, the solitary driver did not stand a chance?

The difficulty is that in practice it has not been found that the presence of two men has necessarily been an additional security measure. In the last five years, there have been thirteen incidents involving mail vans in the London area. In seven of these incidents there were two men in the van and in one of them there was one man in the van. We feel that it may well be that the best security measure is to fit the devices we are now fitting on our Post Office vans. My right hon. Friend is keeping the matter under review the whole time and is anxious to achieve the highest measure of security possible.

In view of the growing concern felt by the public generally and especially by the Post Office workers who are involved in the collection and delivery of mails about these recurring criminal attacks on the staff, will the hon. Lady say whether her right hon. Friend is in consultation with the union primarily concerned in this matter to see whether, at any rate in certain circumstances, it might be desirable to have more than one man on vans carrying these important mails?

Yes, my right hon. Friend is in consultation with the union and he is, in fact, to meet it on 8th July.

Mowmacre Hill, Leicester

14.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has studied the Petition, presented by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West on behalf of the residents of Mowmacre Hill, Leicester, relating to the urgent need of proper post office facilities there; and whether he will now meet the difficulties of the aged and other persons in receipt of pensions and allowances by granting their request for such facilities.

As the hon. Member knows, my right hon. Friend has given this matter careful consideration on several occasions. He is sorry that he cannot do as the hon. Member asks.

Apparently it is not possible to convince the hon. Lady that this is necessary. However, may I ask her once again to consider the fact that there are old people who are becoming very desperate about their position? They do not have the amenities which should be available to them. What is asked for in the Question would cost very little and would serve a very valuable purpose when building is extended in the area. Surely she must do something about this.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have given this question my fullest and most sympathetic consideration.

Telephone Service

Kiosks (Coin Boxes)

2.

asked the Postmaster-General how many public telephone kiosks in England and Wales are equipped with coin boxes unable to receive pennies.

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the new coin box being provided in areas where subscriber trunk dialling is in operation and where the tariff is framed on the basis of 3d. units. Up to now, about 1,000 of these new coin boxes have been installed in England and Wales.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the absence of slots to receive pennies in the coin boxes of these kiosks is causing both annoyance and inconvenience to the public?

That may be true to a limited extent at the present time, but the new coin boxes will not take big coins because the unit charge under the new system is 3d. I have arranged with the Royal Mint that there shall be plentiful supplies of 3d. pieces in these areas.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the study group which was set up to consider the coin box designs has submitted its final report to him yet? Before he makes a decision on the particular model which he is to adopt, will he be so good as to place one or several of them in one of the rooms of this House so that hon. Members can see exactly what sort of design he has in mind?

The decision on the new coin box was taken following the advice of the Post Office Advisory Committee in 1955. With regard to the design of the new kiosk itself, I will certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Local Calls (Timing)

12.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has reviewed the practice of timing local calls under the subscriber trunk dialling system; and if he has yet reached a decision on the possibility of extending the time allowed for 2d. in the cheap rate period.

Yes, Sir. I am satisfied that the timing of local calls, as well as trunk calls, is right in principle and should be maintained. I am, however, anxious to help those who rely on the telephone for social contacts, particularly elderly and housebound people and perhaps the lovelorn. I have, therefore, arranged that, as from 1st August, the time allowed for 2d. on local calls from subscribers' telephones after 6 p.m. every evening and all day on Sunday, shall be extended from 6 minutes to 12 minutes.

For calls made from the new coin boxes with S.T.D. the present charges will remain unchanged.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that extension which will, I am sure, be welcome particularly to the old and the lonely as well as to the lovelorn, may I ask him whether it may be possible to allow rather more than three minutes for 2d. at other times? Is he aware that there is some anxiety in Nottingham about the effect that the new arrangements may have on telephone bills?

There has been some anxiety in many parts of the country about the effect of S.T.D. on telephone bills, but I think that most of it has been misplaced. After all, the charges for all trunk calls under the new system will be lower than they are at present. The charge for about three-quarters of local calls will be lower than it has ever been in the history of the G.P.O.

I think that people will find that, on the whole, their telephone bills are not higher under the new system than under the old. Although I am willing to look at all these proposals from time to time, I am bound to say that at the moment the cost of making this concession during the daytime as well as during the evening would be prohibitive. It would cost about £12 million to £15 million a year, which I think is rather too much.

Wireless And Television

Line Standards

5.

asked the Postmaster-General to what extent he receives regular advice from his Television Advisory Committee on the question of line standards.

The Television Advisory Committee's last advice to me on the question of line standards was given in its Report of 1960, a copy of which was sent to the hon. Member on 1st June last year. The Television Advisory Committee is still considering the question of the technical parameters for 625-line television, but the question of future line definition in all its aspects is now, of course, before the Pilkington Committee.

Having taken note of that Report, is the Minister aware that the Committee gave him very strong advice that it would be in the best interests of television if we switched from 405 to 625 lines? Bearing in mind that, by making the change, we could provide better definition, we could come into line with European standards and, also, we could give our television industry a better exporting chance, is it not obvious that this will be a recommendation from the Pilkington Committee, and ought not the Minister to short-circuit it now by asking for an immediate recommendation?

I do not think that anything is obvious in the world of politics and government, but, nevertheless, what the hon. Gentleman has said is not unwelcome to me personally. I have given a great deal of thought to the matter and I am sure the Pilkington Committee has given even more thought to it. It is perfectly open to the Pilkington Committee to give me an interim report on this important aspect of television if it wishes. I would rather not add to that now.

Time is most important in this matter. We have had fourteen years of development of colour television by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the Corporation is dependent upon a switch from 405 to 625 lines. If we could now have an interim report from the Pilkington Committee before its main report, which is due about twelve months' hence, would that not be a great advantage to the television industry as a whole?

I simply say that I am just as conscious of that consideration as is the hon. Gentleman.

Advertisements

6.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will, under Section 4 (4) of the Television Act, 1954, so amend the Second Schedule to the Act as to provide that no advertisement for proprietary medicines and drugs shall be permitted unless its form and content have been approved by an advisory panel set up after consultation with himself and the Medical Research Council.

No, Sir. The I.T.A. informs me that expert medical advice is now being obtained on all advertisements for proprietary medicines and drugs before they are put on television.

Is the right hon. Gentleman correct in saying that the advice which the Independent Television Authority receives is medical advice? Is it not a fact that only one doctor, who, I understand, has not a great deal of experience of research in this field, is on its advisory committee? Is not this a case where asking the commercial interests to police their own advertisements is like asking Satan to rebuke sin? Will the Minister bear in mind that he has some responsibility in the matter and the authority to act?

Yes, I have some responsibility, and I think I am carrying it out. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is quite right in what he says. There are two checks against misleading medical advertisements now. The first is the Authority's advertising advisory committee which advises both the I.T.A. and the programme companies on standards for the advertising of medicines. There is now also a panel of medical advisers to the programme companies as such, and that panel, I emphasise, includes no advertisers at all. All proprietary medicine advertisements are now being referred to that panel. As a result, one or two advertisements have already left the television screen. I think the position is satisfactory.

Colour Television

11.

asked the Postmaster-General, in view of his decision against a limited service of television by the British Broadcasting Corporation in colour, if he will give further details of recent inquiries about progress in this field abroad; and if he will make a statement.

Three countries have public colour television services. In the U.S.A., after seven years of colour, there is about one colour set in a hundred; in Japan about one in 7,000: in the U.S.S.R., I am told, the public sees colour only on sets installed in "Palaces of Culture".

The price of a colour set to the public is about £210 in U.S.A. and between £420 and £520, according to size, in Japan.

All three countries use the American system, or a variant of it, and tubes based on the American "shadowmask" tube, an improved version of which has recently been produced in U.S.A. An alternative colour system is the "SECAM" system developed in France, but I do not think it offers any advantages over the American system.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that these figures give him any further guidance as to the advisability of allowing the British Broadcasting Corporation to introduce a colour service on present line standards?

I share the inference which I think my hon. Friend wishes to be drawn from his question, but the most important consideration is that the Government ought to make as soon as may be a decision on the future of line standards so that we can then proceed to get on with sensible planning in colour television.

In view of the fact that practically all the technical experts in the B.B.C. and in the industry responsible for the development and manufacture of the equipment are of the opinion that the 625-line standard is the appropriate line standard, what additional technical information could be made available to the Pilkington Committee? Is not the Postmaster-General dragging his feet? In spite of the science with which he blinded us in his first reply, is it not about time he got going with colour television?

I think that all the answers that I have given about television have been grossly over-simplified. I have never attempted to blind the House with science in this matter. It is perfectly fair to say that the technical considerations here are no real bother to me or to anyone else. We can get over those. Of course, there are the wider social, financial and economic implications which we have to consider very carefully.

Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend has said, when does he personally think that the British public will have the opportunity of having coloured television?

That is not easy to say, but I should have thought that, if we had a decision on the future of line standards in the next six or twelve months, we might have a limited colour television service in this country within about three years.

13.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that the 625-lines standard has now been proved to be the most suitable system for the transmission of coloured television; and what is the most recent technical advice he has received on this matter.

I agree that present indications are that colour could be introduced at least as successfully on 625 lines as on 405 lines. In this connection, the B.B.C.'s colour transmissions on 625 lines in Band V next year will be an important experiment. The first and fundamental question to be settled is whether or not we should adopt the higher line standard. Once this is settled progress in colour should be possible.

As it is impossible to convince the right hon. Gentleman, I have no desire to ask a supplementary question.

Spain (British And Foreign Bible Society)

15.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what were the complaints of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Spain which were the subject of discussions between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Spanish Government; and whether there is now an improvement in the position.

The Society itself is forbidden to hold and distribute Bibles in Spain. This subject was discussed during the visit of my noble Friend to Madrid last month, and Her Majesty's Ambassador is again in touch with the Spanish authorities about it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the last part of the Question? Has there been any improvement in the position?

Is religious intolerance, which is part of the police state in Spain, one of the shining examples which the Prime Minister would like us to copy in this country?

I do not think that the task of trying to improve things for the British and Foreign Bible Society will be helped by supplementary questions of that kind.

Gibraltar (Spanish Frontier)

16.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether the visit of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Madrid has had any practical results at the Spanish frontier with Gibraltar.

I have nothing to add to my replies of 5th and 12th June and to my hon. Friend the Colonial Under-Secretary's replies of 6th and 13th June.

When will the Lord Privy Seal realise that the policy of placating and appeasing the Spanish Fascist Government which he is pursuing at the moment will not bring any results at all? When does he propose to start talking tough to them in the interests of our Colony of Gibraltar?

We are not appeasing the Spanish Government or trying to placate them. We are trying to improve relations. We hope that, as a result of the contacts between the two Foreign Secretaries and the pursuit of the conversations by our own Ambassador in Madrid, we shall be able to achieve this result.

Has the right hon. Gentleman evidence that this hope of his is justified? Does he really think that, even if Spain is a great Christian nation, as I think the Prime Minister said the other day, we will improve our relations with it by consistently turning the other cheek?

There were improvements last year in the position concerning passes across the frontier. There has been an improvement regarding motor vehicles this year. We hope that the visit of my noble Friend, which was only a few weeks ago, will lead to other improvements.

Germany

Arms Factories (Inspection)

17.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the recent consideration by Western European Union of the West German Government's failure to inspect private arms factories without notice so as to ensure there is no production of atomic, bacteriological and chemical weapons, and on the failure of West Germany to ratify the Convention, signed by her in 1957, giving the Arms Control Agency the right to make such surprise visits.

These inspections are not carried out by the Federal Government but by the Arms Control Agency of Western European Union. The convention to which the hon. Gentleman refers is designed to provide a proper legal basis for surprise inspections. The process of ratification by the Federal Republic is now complete and the Instrument of Ratification will be deposited with the Belgian Government in the near future.

Why have not the ratifying instruments been presented? Since the West German Government have not yet ratified the Convention and as no surprise inspections have taken place, how does the right hon. Gentleman know that there has been, and is, no production by West Germany of forbidden weapons?

The Federal German Government was the first Government to ratify the Convention after the United Kingdom. As I have said, the ratification process has been completed and the Instrument is about to be deposited with the Belgian Government. I am told that the Agency has been able to function effectively and that on no occasion has it been refused admission to a factory.

Is it not possible to effect a surprise visit to Eastern Germany. Is it possible to see whether this Question was prompted from King Street?

British Subjects (Compensation)

31.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, prior to a German peace treaty, he will commence negotiations with the German Federal Republic about compensation for British subjects whose property was confiscated or destroyed during the period 1933 to 1945.

In so far as these losses were caused by Nazi persecution, they are not dependent on a peace treaty. Compensation is already provided by Federal German restitution and compensation legislation in accordance with obligations undertaken in the Bonn Conventions that were signed in 1954. In so far as the losses are the result of the war, consideration of them must await a final peace settlement, to the extent to which they are not already compensated under Federal German domestic legislation.

Despite my hon. Friend's Answer, may I ask whether this does not mean that there are still quite a number of losses not settled and that if they have to await a German peace treaty they will have to wait a very long time? Is not this the kind of problem which can be treated prior to a peace treaty. Will my hon. Friend look at it again? Could not my hon. Friend formulate these claims? I understand that there are no figures for them to date.

This is a very difficult matter. I have looked into it carefully and I am perfectly willing to look at it again, but I do not see at the moment any way in which we can make an advance.

Fishing Vessel "Red Crusader" (Commission Of Inquiry)

18.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will announce the names of the members of the commission of inquiry into the "Red Crusader" incident; and what are the terms of reference of the inquiry.

39.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will now state the names and qualifications of the persons appointed to act as commissioners to investigate and report on the recent incident when an armed Danish frigate fired on and damaged the unarmed Scottish vessel "Red Crusader"; how many sittings they have had; what evidence has been adduced; and when they will report.

A Note setting out Her Majesty's Government's views on the composition, powers and terms of reference of the proposed commission of inquiry was handed to the Danish Ambassador on 23rd June. The names of the members of the commission and other details will be announced as soon as agreement has been reached with the Danish Government.

Is it intended that within the terms of reference consideration should be given to the methods of enforcement of these fishing limits?

As I told the House when this matter was first discussed, the commission is to inquire into the facts of this incident. When we receive those facts, I think that we can form a judgment about such questions as my hon. Friend has raised.

Will the Lord Privy Seal take care to ensure that the commission includes someone learned in the relevant law and that the terms of reference will be sufficiently wide to settle, not only the facts of this incident, but the general facts which give rise to these unfortunate incidents between two friendly nations, Denmark and Britain?

I take the hon. and learned Member's point about legal representation on the commission. I think that I shall always regard him as the "red crusader" in these incidents. I think that the other matters are to be determined in the discussions between the Danish Government and ourselves.

South Korea

19.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the changed political situation in South Korea; and what instructions have been given to the British diplomatic mission in Seoul on relations with the new régime.

Her Majesty's Government have taken note of the declaration made by the new régime, especially in regard to its observance of the United Nations Charter and international commitments, and General Chang's statement that political power would be returned to a civilian authority as soon as possible. Her Majesty's Ambassador has informed the Foreign Minister of the new Government that Her Majesty's Government very much hope that the policies of the new régime, both internal and external, will be such as to enable friendly relations between the two States to be maintained.

Will the hon. Gentleman say what is the extent of our present commitment in South Korea and, pending recognition of the new régime— which I gather, from what he says, has not yet taken place—to what authority that commitment is linked?

There is no question of commitment here. Nor is there any question of recognition. There has been no change of the Head of State. Her Majesty's Ambassador is accredited to the Head of State, and there has therefore been no change in this case.

Laos

21.

asked the Lord Privy Seal how far the recommendations by the Control Commission in Laos, that all foreign military personnel should be withdrawn and that military supplies from foreign sources should cease, have been observed.

These and other matters raised by the Commission are now being discussed at the Conference in Geneva.

What is happening to the proposal that the International Commission should be responsible both for preventing the importation of any foreign arms or military aid and for the peace truce? What has happened to that proposal and what is the position now?

Draft proposals were put forward by the French delegation which covered all these matters. Alternative proposals have also been tabled, and they are still under discussion at the conference. We are anxious that the conference should reach a decision about them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider further the proposal that the Commission's reports should be published? He has been good enough to put them in the Library, but is he aware that the last report in the Library is dated 31st May, which makes it very difficult for hon. Members to follow what is going on?

I will see whether any further documents can be placed in the Library, and I will look again at the question of publication, which is being considered.

Germany And Berlin

22.

asked the Lord Privy Seal to what extent the peace plan presented by the Western Foreign Ministers at the Geneva Conference on 14th May, 1959, represents the present policy of Her Majesty's Government on the German problem and European security; and whether it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to resume the Foreign Ministers' Conference at Geneva which adjourned on 5th August, 1959.

It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to solve the problem of Germany and Berlin by peaceful means and in accordance with the obligations that we have assumed there. On that basis, we are always ready to discuss the matter with those concerned. We still believe that the Western Peace Plan fulfils those conditions, and would provide a just and equitable solution for all the parties.

Would it not be a good thing if representatives of East and West Germany met for exploratory talks on the issues involved in reunification? Might not such talks help to prepare the ground for the Four-Power negotiations which will undoubtedly have to take place later?

Whatever other talks there may be, the responsibilities rest with the four Powers.

May I ask two questions? First, in view of the danger of war by miscalculation over Berlin, a danger which was recognised in the recent Vienna meeting by both Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Kennedy, have the Government any intention of separating from the general Western peace plan the proposal which the Prime Minister yesterday endorsed once more for arms control in Central Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain? Secondly, to what extent is it Government policy that the negotiations, if resumed, should take up where they left off in 1958? Or is it intended that the whole negotiations should start again from scratch?

It is not in our mind at the moment to put forward proposals of a separate nature of the kind the hon. Member mentioned. The question where any further conference, if there be one, should start, is very much a matter for the future.

24.

asked the Lord Privy Seal (1) whether, in reply to Premier Khrushchev's recent aidemémoire to Her Majesty's Government on Germany and Berlin, he will propose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Warsaw Treaty Powers should enter into an agreement to settle any differences arising between them on these matters only by the peaceful means prescribed in the United Nations Charter and should in no circumstances resort to force or the threat of force as a means of settlement;

(2) whether, in response to the proposals in Mr. Khrushchev's recent official declaration on Germany and Berlin, he will now propose negotiations on the basis of recognition of the Polish-German frontier and of the existence of two German States, acceptance of some form of disengagement such as that proposed in the Rapacki plan, and making West Berlin a free city under United Nations or other international guarantee of its status and of access to it from the west.

Ls the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Charter of the United Nations prohibits resort to force without the authorisation of the Security Council except where there is an armed attack? Will he give an undertaking that the Government will in no circumstances take part in contingency planning or associate themselves with any proposal to resort to force when there is not an armed attack?

It is because our obligations are clearly laid down in the Charter that it is unnecessary to adopt the suggestion made in the Question. As for contingency planning, as I told the House the other day it is necessary that the Western Powers should look at all possible eventualities.

26.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what new proposals Her Majesty's Government have now received from Mr. Khrushchev or President Kennedy regarding the future of Berlin; and, in the absence of other definite and acceptable proposals, if he will propose that some of the United Nations agencies be moved to the city.

Her Majesty's Government have received no new proposals from Mr. Khrushchev regarding the future of Berlin. The whole question is being fully discussed with the United States Government, but I cannot add to the replies given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 6th June and yesterday. I have taken note of the suggestion in the last part of the hon. Gentleman's Question.

While it is generally agreed that we have a clear obligation to defend the freedom of West Berlin, as the Prime Minister has stated that he is willing to enter into negotiations again, does not the Lord Privy Seal agree that this might be a suggestion worth considering in any such negotiations and that possibly at some future date it might be worth considering associating with the United Nations in the control of the check points?

I have stated this afternoon the arrangements under which we are prepared to discuss negotiations. The suggestion made by the hon. Member has been put forward from time to time in a variety of ways. We will take note of it.

While fully agreeing that it is both morally right and in our own interests that the people of West Berlin should not have a decision imposed upon them, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would also be in the best interests of the United Kingdom to broaden the negotiations when they start and to discuss the German problem as a whole, and possibly the question of a European security pact, rather than to leave the initiative to others? In the past Her Majesty's Government have often been more helpful than other Powers in initiating such proposals.

A fundamental fact about the Western peace plan was that the problem can be dealt with only in the context of Germany and Berlin as a whole.

Security (Naval Attache's Clerk, Warsaw)

23.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether any report was received by his Department in 1951 from the Head of Mission in Warsaw commenting adversely on the conduct of the Naval Attaché's clerk; and whether any subsequent action was taken by his Department with the security authorities direct.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the heads of missions in foreign capitals accept full responsibility for the security and conduct of their staff, including that of their Service advisers? Does he not think that in this rather unsavoury case, security obviously demanded that Her Majesty's Ambassador in Warsaw should have reported this incident?

It is true that the head of mission accepts responsibility for all staff, including attachés and their clerks. Appropriate action was taken in this case by the Naval Attaché and by the Admiralty and there was no cause for the Ambassador to report the matter to the Foreign Office.

Angola (United Kingdom Missionaries)

27.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what reply he has sent to the letter he has received from Leamington Road Baptist Church, Blackburn, regarding the ill-treatment of United Kingdom missionaries in Angola by the Portuguese authorities.

The letter which my noble Friend has received from the Leamington Road Baptist Church, Blackburn, does not refer to the ill-treatment of United Kingdom missionaries in Angola.

Is not the Lord Privy Seal dodging the issue? Is he not aware that it refers to the deterioration of the situation in Angola, one of the factors of which is that Baptist missionaries are being compelled to give up their work and to return to this country? Have the Government yet carried out the request contained in the letter that they should make representations to the Portuguese Government asking them to abandon the excessively repressive measures which they are adopting in Angola and to negotiate with the Angola people on the basis of moderation and Christian charity?

If the hon. Lady asks me a Question specifically directed to the ill-treatment of the United Kingdom missionaries said to be mentioned in a specific letter sent to my noble Friend, I answer that Question. The letter from the Leamington Road Baptist Church, Blackburn, was a very fair letter. As I have said to the House previously, we have made it plain that there is a difference between our policy and that of the Portuguese Government, that we deplore the loss of life and that we hope that law and order will soon be restored there with the minimum loss of human life.

Have we made representations to Portugal, both as our oldest ally and as a member of N.A.T.O., to see if she will cease from some of the things she is now doing in Angola?

My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary, as has already been stated, discussed this matter with members of the Portuguese Government when he paid his visit to Lisbon a few weeks ago.

Is not the Lord Privy Seal aware that there is very widespread concern on this matter in the country, and that what we are asking for is that the Government, either through the Lord Privy Seal or otherwise, should ask the Portuguese Government to cease their present policies in Angola, and that till we have an assurance that the Government have made such representations we shall feel that they are failing in their responsibilities to humanity?

There is another Question later on the Paper today which I will deal with at rather greater length, but, on this particular point, we have made clear our regret at this loss of life. We deplore it. I have said so publicly and so has my noble Friend.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be better to await the result of the inquiry which is now being made to discover the true position before we have all these questions which only make my right hon. Friend's job a great deal more difficult?

We have also expressed our desire that the sub-committee should be able to carry out its investigations and make a report as soon as possible.

Further to the supplementary question by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance), is it not the case that the British Consul-General in Luanda, who has been charged by the Foreign Secretary with inquiring into this matter, should have been reporting on this matter over the last three months, and can the Lord Privy Seal say what information, if any, he has conveyed to the Government on the true situation in Angola?

The Consul-General in Luanda has been endeavouring to send us the fullest information in the last few weeks.

Because he has asked the mission to go to the northern region of Angola and the Portuguese Government have undertaken to give it facilities to go there.

28.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations have been made to the Government of Portugal regarding the order given to the Rev. David Grenfell, a United Kingdom citizen and the senior Baptist missionary in Angola, to leave his station at Quibocoio after twenty-eight years' service.

38.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations have been made to Her Majesty's consular representatives in Angola regarding orders to British missionaries to leave their mission stations; and what advice has been given by Her Majesty's consul.

50.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations he has made to the Portuguese Government in respect of the security of British nationals in Angola, particularly Baptist missionaries; and what reply he has received.

Her Majesty's Consul-General at Luanda has asked British missionaries in Angola to keep him informed of their whereabouts but he has not advised them to leave. Her Majesty's Consul-General has taken up with the Portuguese authorities the order they have given for the evacuation of the Baptist mission at Quibocoio. He has been informed that the decision was taken on grounds of security and could not be rescinded.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how full of admiration many of us are for the work of the Baptist missionaries in Angola and, indeed, for that of their Methodist and their Catholic colleagues, and how shocked we are that these British citizens have not been sustained by help from the Government? Is he aware that 21 of the 28 Baptist missionaries have had to leave Angola, and is it not about time that we defended British subjects and British principles of liberty in Angola?

This is a particular case of which we know in which the missionaries were asked to close their mission and then to withdraw it from that area. The Consul-General immediately took that matter up with the Portuguese authorities. They said that as it was for security reasons they were not able to withdraw or rescind the order.

If the hon. Member will contain himself for a moment. We have no details about other missionaries being forced to withdraw, but I will gladly look into any case which hon. Members are able to bring to our notice.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a firm assurance that the Government will stand up for the rights of British citizens who have given devoted services to the people of Angola for many years and have shown a sense of outrage at the recent policy of repression there? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has had an assurance from the Portuguese Government that Her Majesty's consular representatives are to be allowed to go to the areas from which these British missionaries are being forced to withdraw?

We have the greatest admiration for the work which the missionaries have done, in particular for that of the Baptist missionaries since, I believe, 1879, and we shall do our utmost to support them in their work. But they are in the territory of another country, and there is, therefore, a limit to what we can do in this respect. As far as the visit of the Consul-General is concerned, the Portuguese authorities have told us that he will be able to visit the northern area.

Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that he will not follow the suggestion of hon. Members opposite—and will not send a gunboat?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many missionaries we have in this area and whether any of the missionaries have requested permission to stay and have sought the good offices of the Government to enable them to stay and have been refused?

I have been looking at the total list of our missionaries in Angola. If the hon. Gentleman would like to put down a Question I will try to give him the full details about that. We have not, as far as I know, had any further requests from missionaries to be able to stay in a particular area.

Can the Lord Privy Seal say whether the Consul-General inquired whose security the Portuguese Government were referring to? Is he not aware that the British missionaries in Angola declared that they did not consider that there security was at stake in this area since they had very good relations with the African population? Is this not in fact a case of the security of the Portuguese repressive forces, which was threatened by the presence of the British missionaries?

I am not aware of this, but the decision is the decision of the Portuguese Government.

Will the Lord Privy Seal arrange that the evidence of the Baptist missionaries shall be instantly sent to the United Nations committee of inquiry, since in fact they are the only independent witnesses on the spot?

Disarmament

29.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what further proposals Her Majesty's Government will put forward when disarmament negotiations are resumed, in the light of Mr. Khrushchev's statement that if the Western Powers will accept his proposals on complete and general disarmament he will accept any Western proposals on control, without vetoes or restrictions of any kind.

Her Majesty's Government expect that when multilateral disarmament negotiations are resumed the Western powers will submit joint proposals. I am not in a position to make public any such proposals before they are presented at the multilateral negotiations.

In view of the fact that the British Government, by adhering to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' declaration, have now accepted that the principle of disarmament shall be a rapid and continuous process, and that Mr. Khrushchev has said, with greater emphasis than ever before, that he is prepared that the control agencies should have access to any place at any time without restriction or veto, is there not now an opportunity for the British Government to take a constructive initiative in this field?

With respect to what Mr. Khrushchev has said, it seems abundantly clear that he is willing to have adequate inspection once disarmament has been completed, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman, who has referred to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' statement, that one clause of it says that

"In respect of each phase there should be established, by agreement, effective machinery of inspection, which should come into operation simultaneously with the phase of disarmament to which it relates".
That is what the Government are working towards and what they hope will be achieved.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is exactly what was proposed by Mr. Khrushchev in his proposals of 2nd June last year?

Certainly not exactly in that form. He said that what he envisages is that once total disarmament has been completed then there shall be full inspection—

This is certainly not misrepresentation. He said that in fact there could be no inspection while armed forces were still there, for to carry it out might involve some risk of intelligence and danger to the State. It was in his aide memoire which he recently submitted.

Would the hon. Gentleman look again at Mr. Khrushchev's proposal last year and see that he proposed that at every stage there should be inspection adequate to the disarmament measure being carried out, so adequate that there could be no violation undetected?

We shall be very glad to make progress on the lines indicated by the Commonwealth Prime Ministers when we resume disarmament negotiations. But considering what has been said, when we get round the conference table it is strange how we are unable to make progress, which the right hon. Member seems to think would be possible, for the reason that the Russians are not prepared to go forward.

Congo (Famine Relief Fund)

30.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will seek authority at the United Nations to apply the Famine Relief Fund in the Congo for the relief of all refugees, including those from Angola; and what assessment has been made of the adequacy for this purpose of present stocks of food held in the Congo by the United Nations.

The United Nations authorities in the Congo have now told us that they take the view that they can properly apply their Congo Famine Relief Fund to relief work amongst Angolan refugees in the Congo. They consider that their present stocks of food are adequate for the relief of these refugees.

While welcoming the first part of that statement, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he can say exactly how much these stocks are at the moment? No doubt he is aware that there are nearly 100,000 refugees many of whom may stay for a considerable time. Is he satisfied that the stocks will be adequate now?

I have made particular inquiries on this point and I am assured on every account that there are sufficient stocks available for a considerable time. The refugee organisation is envisaging work in resettlement and providing seeds, and it is going into the matter very fully.

British Council

Teachers (Employment Overseas)

32.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what steps are taken to ensure that teachers sent abroad by the British Council are adequately prepared for their new environment.

All teachers are briefed at the Council's headquarters about living conditions overseas.

This year the Council has also accepted an offer by Overseas Service to run a special course for teachers during August on the problems of living and working in developing territories.

While welcoming this new scheme, may I ask whether my hon. Friend is satisfied that it goes far enough in assisting teachers going to new environments to acclimatise themselves to the land where they will teach?

I think that this will be a definite improvement, but if my hon. Friend has particular problems in mind I should welcome a talk with him and I should be glad to go into them further.

Overseas Students (Accommodation)

33.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what arrangements are made by the British Council in compiling lists of approved lodgings for overseas students to prevent official scholarship funds being used to purchase accommodation where the landlord refuses to accept coloured students.

The British Council does not purchase accommodation in lodgings, and so no question of using official scholarship funds for this purpose arises.

Is the Minister aware that that is a very unsatisfactory Answer? Is he aware that a colour bar on accommodation is unfortunately a common experience for overseas students in this country? Is he aware that one prejudiced landlady, quite unrepresentative of the attitudes of the British people, can undo all the good work which Her Majesty's Government try to do with various scholarship funds? Will the hon. Gentleman encourage the British Council and other public authorities which have considerable influence in this matter to set standards and to refuse to allow landladies to enjoy the privileges of the official lists if they are not prepared to operate without racial discrimination?

I have looked into this point personally with the British Council and I think that the arrangement which the Council has is the most satisfactory. It is not just a matter of a colour bar. There is, I know, this prejudice, which is deplored on both sides of the House, but there are other factors which arise where students would not be particularly welcome, some for racial and some for other reasons. The British Council maintains a list of people whom it believes would welcome particular students. It offers students the choice of three or four people whom it thinks would make them feel at home. Surely that is the best practical way of dealing with the matter.

Portugal

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

34.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will call to the attention of the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation the failure of the Portuguese Government to carry out the obligations set forth in the Preamble and Article 2 of the Treaty.

47.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will initiate proposals to remove Portugal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in view of the damage done to the declared aims of that Organisation by the policy currently being pursued in Angola.

55.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if, in view of the fact that the actions of Portugal in Angola conflict with Portuguese acceptance of the Preamble of the North Atlantic Treaty, he will propose her expulsion from the Organisation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Portuguese Government have acted both in Portugal and in Angola completely contrary to the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law as laid down in the Preamble of the Treaty and have done less than nothing to strengthen their institutions as required by Article 2? In view of this, instead of sending arms to Portugal as a N.A.T.O. ally, will Her Majesty's Government propose that Portugal should be expelled from N.A.T.O.?

I cannot agree with those views and I do not think that it would achieve anything to adopt the attitude which the hon. Member suggests.

How does the right hon. Gentleman square these answers with his attitude towards South Africa and the Commonwealth? Is he not aware that it was precisely this kind of answer that we received when we asked similar questions on the policy of the Government of South Africa? Is he aware that Her Majesty's Government always answered that these were matters of internal policies with which they could not interfere? Does not that same argument apply to Portugal and will not Portugal get out of N.A.T,.O. just as South Africa got out of the Commonwealth?

The whole question of South Africa's wish to leave the Commonwealth was a big question which we had to debate in the House. If we are trying to improve the situation in Angola, the Government's view is that this is not the way to achieve it.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that one way of dealing with the situation in Angola is to ask that Portugal should observe the rights which she pledged herself in the N.A.T.O. Treaty to maintain? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the Prime Minister spoke yesterday very strongly about defending the rights of West Berlin? Are we going to deny the rights which Portugal pledged herself to safeguard under the N.A.T.O. treaty?

No, Sir. Denying rights is not part of the policy of Her Majesty's Government, but we are not prepared to adopt the suggestion of expelling Portugal from N.A.T.O.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one strong Note from Her Majesty's Government on this matter would be better than any representations to N.A.T.O. or the United Nations? Why does he not send a strong Note?

Because when one is dealing with other countries and trying to influence their policy, sending strong Notes is not necessarily the way to do it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the same applies to speeches about the wind of change?

Frigates

37.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations have been made to the Portuguese Government about the use of the two frigates sold to them by Her Majesty's Government; and what efforts were made to cancel the sale.

None, Sir. These frigates have been sold to Portugal as replacements for two Portuguese destroyers of British design which are now almost thirty years old and which are to be scrapped. These ships will help Portugal to meet her N.A.T.O. obligations. They are now in British yards and being refitted. This will take some months to complete.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Foreign Office is consulted before these sorts of sales are made? If not, should it not be consulted, considering the devastating effect that they may have on the British good name throughout the world? Is he aware that yesterday we were told that further sales are now in suspense? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this means that there will be no further sales of arms to Portugal, or sales of arms which could get to Portugal, until the trouble in Angola is cleared up and the present repressive measures abandoned?

The procedure for deciding about the sale of arms, either Governmental or private, was described by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the House. There is Government machinery for dealing with that. The announcement yesterday was that orders for arms for Portuguese overseas territories are now held in suspense.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what machinery Her Majesty's Government are setting up to ensure that arms shipped to Portugal are not used in Portuguese overseas territories? Are Her Majesty's Consul-General in Luanda and the other gentleman charged with inquiring into the situation in Angola by the Secretary of State given any instructions on this issue? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the refitting of the two frigates will take many months?

I have told the House that it will take several months to complete the refitting.

As for the destination of arms, it is up to the Governmental machinery which is established to examine each of the orders for arms going to Portugal in the light of their possible use.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister made no answer to us yesterday? He just sat there dumb. Secondly, if it will take many months to refit the frigates, was there any real urgency for making the announcement of their sale now? Could it not have been held up until they were ready?

The Question on this point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not reached yesterday. I was referring to the general machinery for the examination of all orders for arms to this country, either Governmental or by private arrangement. As for the order for the frigates, such an order takes a considerable time to be negotiated and when it is finally settled it has to be signed and then the process of refitting carried out.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say specifically what the obligations are that Portugal is having to fulfil to N.A.T.O. with two frigates thirty years old which we were about to scrap?

Kuwait

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

56.

To ask the Lord Privy Seal what request Her Majesty's Government has received from the ruler of Kuwait for assistance, in view of the Iraqi Government's claim to sovereignty over Kuwait.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. 56.

Her Majesty's Government have been in consultation with the Government of Kuwait. They have assured the Ruler of their support.

It has been agreed with the Ruler that the title of the Political Agency shall shortly be changed to that of Consulate-General.

First, may I thank the Lord Privy Seal for answering the Question out of turn and express the hope that some of his colleagues, particularly senior ones, will follow his good example?

While recognising the obligation of Her Majesty's Government to support the Ruler in his present argument with the Government of Iraq—if the Ruler requests help—may I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he does not agree that the present argument is essentially an Arab problem, that there is every reason to believe that the Iraqi Government have isolated themselves from the whole of the rest of the Arab world by their present claim to Kuwait and that it would be a great mistake for Her Majesty's Government to go more forward in support of the Ruler of Kuwait in the present situation than the Ruler himself gives occasion to believe they should?

The argument is about the claim of Iraq to Kuwait and the independence of Kuwait itself. The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right in what he says in that most of the other Arab countries have already sent letters and other messages of support to the Ruler of Kuwait. The independence of Kuwait was, of course, recognised by the actions of the present Iraqi Government as recently as 13th June, when they voted for the admission of Kuwait, as an independent country, to the International Labour Organisation at its conference at Geneva. The obligations of Her Majesty's Government are laid down in the Exchange of Notes which I announced to the House last week, and we are, of course, prepared to carry out our obligations.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be full consultations between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States of America, those being the two principal Western Powers interested in the large oil output from Kuwait, and that there will be no independent action by Her Majesty's Government without full support from the United States of America in this matter?

We are, of course, in close consultation with the Government of the United States.

Ministry Of Labour (Chancellor Of The Duchy Of Lancaster)

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the Government changes announced last night, he will state the arrangements that he is making for answering Questions about industrial disputes during the absence of the Minister of Labour.

I have been asked to reply.

In accordance with the usual practice, Questions addressed to the Minister of Labour will, in the ordinary way, be answered during the Minister's short absence abroad by the Parliamentary Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will deal with any Parliamentary business—

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will deal with any Parliamentary business of particular importance relating to the responsibilities of the Ministry.

As I understood—I find it very hard to believe—the Home Secretary said that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would help out on this subject. May I ask whether he thinks it really is a contribution to peace in industrial relations that the man who is known in every factory in Luton—and, for all I know, in every factory in the country—as "Chuck it Charlie" should be brought into this field?

Secondly, may I ask the Home Secretary whether he is aware that the only public announcement that I have been able to find which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has made on these affairs was when he said that wages must take second place to prices? All these things being known, does the Home Secretary think that this is a particularly helpful arrangement? Is he really telling us that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will not only answer in the House, but will also handle disputes outside the House?

I was asked, in the first place, about Parliamentary business. I think that both the House and the country will ignore the observations of a personal character made by the right hon. Gentleman about my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Prime Minister is perfectly satisfied that this is the best arrangement that could be made. [Laughter.] My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will—[Interruption.]

Order. I have the greatest difficulty in being sure that the Leader of the House is remaining in order unless I can hear what he is saying.

I was about to say, Mr. Speaker, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will be returning next week, and that I think that these arrangements are the very best that can be made in the meantime.

There has been, as you have observed, Mr. Speaker, a certain amount of noise. Did I understand the Leader of the House to be saying that the credit of the Government is so low that this is the best they can do in the meantime? If so, it is a miserable best.

We are quite accustomed to the attitude of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he thinks that he is on a funny point. I can assure him that he has not got across to the House this afternoon. I am sure that the arrangement made by my right hon. Friend will be to the complete satisfaction of the House.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there may be a point in saying that we must not underrate the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, because he has great experience in threatening the Government with strike action? It may be that the Government are working on the theory that poachers turned gamekeepers are very experienced, though I would advise the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Rouse that he should remember that we are apt to look askance at gamekeepers these days.

Is the Leader of the House aware that, quite apart from answering in this House, a great responsibility rests upon any person making decisions in the Ministry of Labour at a time like this? Can the Leader of the House assure us that when decisions are taken by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about what will take place in the event of trouble in industry, he, and he alone, will accept the responsibility for the outcome of those decisions?

We must not take too simple a view of this. When there is an important industrial issue, the decision is, naturally, taken by the Government as a whole and under the leadership of the Prime Minister. The House may be perfectly satisfied that in a period of acute industrial difficulty the Government will take the responsibility, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Will the Leader of the House tell us who will do the job of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster while he is applying his mind to industrial relations?

I think that the broad-ranging abilities of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be sufficient to cover both duties.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster represents Luton with an increased majority and that the majority of the men there work in the motor industry, which shows that they consider that he is the best qualified man to do the job? Furthermore, may I suggest that if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would devote his attention to unofficial strike leaders, people outside the House would be more satisfied with him?

Is the Home Secretary aware that some of us are even more nervous about what is to happen to the Common Market while the Minister of Labour is abroad than we are about what is to happen to industrial relations in this country?

Will the right hon. Gentleman take up the point about how far the House was misled yesterday, in so far as the Prime Minister was not frank with hon. Members in view of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour at that time was already on his way out? Did it come as a surprise to the best Prime Minister that we have at present when he found that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) had been appointed?

There is a normal practice relating to announcements of Ministerial appointments. They are not announced ahead and cognisance of them is not taken until they are announced. That exactly explains the position as it was yesterday.

In view of the fact that there is now a rather serious position in the motor car industry, has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster any statement to make today?

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise with you a point on which I want your guidance?

Order. I do not want to stop the hon. Lady, but I am anxious to get the help of the House about this. I am not entitled to use up the time of the House in giving guidance. If hon. Members, including the hon. Lady, who desire guidance, like to come and see me about it, I will do the best I can.

I was about to ask for your Ruling on a point which, I think, will be of interest to all hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, much as I should enjoy a tête-à-tête. May I ask you whether you would advise us to whom questions which concern more than one Government Department should be addressed when we are seeking to table them?

I ask you this because, yesterday, I put down a Question to the Prime Minister asking him with what Government Departments the Portuguese Army Chief of Staff had had official discussions during his recent visit to London. That Question was transferred for reply to the Secretary of State for War.

On receiving the Secretary of State's Written Answer yesterday I discovered that the Portuguese Army Chief of Staff had had talks not only with the Secretary of State for War, but also with the Secretary of State for Air. Is it not customary that, where more than one Government Department is involved in responsibility for a certain situation, the Prime Minister should reply? The result of the transfer of this Question is that the Prime Minister has evaded responsibility for the actions of his own Government.

If and when there is a specific question to be ruled about I will do my best to rule upon it. I am not prepared to rule in the abstract like that, because circumstances with regard to particular Questions might vary. As the hon. Lady and the House know, the Chair can and does accept no responsibility for the transfer of questions. Her grievance, if any, is not against the Chair, but against a member of the Government.

In view of your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) should see you to seek your guidance, would it not be advisable, before this event occurs, for you to seek the guidance of hon. Members?

Orders Of The Day

Housing Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), further considered.

Clause 30—(Application Of S 29 And Restriction On Contracting Out)

3.45 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs
(Mr. Henry Brooke)

I beg to move, in page 29, line 40 to leave out from "the" to "being" in line 41 and to insert "passing of this Act".

I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we considered, at the same time, the remaining three Amendments on the Notice Paper, the first in the name of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) in line 40, to leave out from "the" to "being" in line 41 and to insert:

"eighth day of November, nineteen hundred and sixty"
and the other two in the name of the Minister, in page 30, line 21, to leave out "on or" and in line 21, to leave out from "the" to "would" in line 22 and to insert "passing of this Act".

Indeed, in the case of the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), I would have to ask the House to do that, because there is no way of saving it, so it will have to be so discussed.

That would be convenient, Mr. Speaker. The other two Government Amendments are consequential upon the one which I have moved.

In the early hours of this morning we made a number of Amendments to Clause 29, and the question at issue now is simply and solely the date at which Clause 29 should come into effect. We had some discussion of this in Standing Committee and it was argued both ways, some hon. Members wishing to insert an earlier date than the date of introduction of the Bill—which is the date in the Bill at the moment—and others suggesting that it was virtually impossible for anyone who was professionally engaged in these matters to inform himself instantly and precisely the moment the Bill was published, and at once to see that everything he did, or everything he advised his clients to do, was in accordance with that.

In Standing Committee, I expressed the view that we should stick to the date in the Bill. Indeed, I argued both against hon. Members opposite and against my hon. Friends who sought to influence me in one way or the other. But I did say—and other hon. Members made reference to it—that it would be unreasonable to make the date of coming into operation of Clause 29 the date of the original introduction of the Bill if, before the Bill actually passed into law, we amended the Clause.

It may not be unreasonable to expect solicitors and others to obtain copies of Bills immediately they are issued, and, if they see that a particular Clause is to come into operation on the date of presentation of the Bill, to act accordingly and to assume that the Bill will not be amended. But no one, however clever or politically far-sighted, can possibly be expected to anticipate whether Parliament will make Amendments to the Bill before it becomes law, still less what those Amendments will be.

The reason why I am moving this Amendment is because the Amendments which the House agreed to last night will shift the dividing line of the landlord's responsibility and the tenant's responsibility away from where it stood, or appeared to stand, in the Bill as first published. That being so, it seems to the Government that it is not possible to support the proposition that Clause 29 should come into operation from the date when the Bill was first introduced, bearing in mind that the Clause 29 which will pass into law will be materially different from the Clause 29 which was presented to Parliament and was read in the original Bill by solicitors, landlords, tenants and others. The Amendments which we made last night had certain effects which could not have been foreseen either from anything that I said at the beginning of the Session or by reading the terms of the Bill.

Those Amendments, made it perfectly clear for the first time that objects like baths and washbasins would be deemed to be within the landlord's responsibility and, therefore, would be caught, so to speak, by the restrictive provisions of Clause 29. Furthermore, the Amendments made it clear that a landlord would be specifically responsible for all heating installations, whether they were for heating rooms or heating water, that is to say, domestic boilers and geysers and other fixed gas or electric water heaters, radiators and built-in electric fires.

From neither my words in the debate at the beginning of the Session, nor from the Bill as it stands, could it be deduced that those would necessarily be deemed to be the landlord's responsibilities when the Bill left the House, and, in due course, when it received the Royal Assent.

I have been extremely anxious not to make this legislation retrospective, but to bring it into force at the earliest possible time. Having carefully considered it, I came to the conclusion that we would be leaving ourselves open to a legitimate charge that we were legislating retrospectively if we brought into operation from a date in February a Clause whose final form nobody could possibly have seen before a date at the end of June.

It is for that reason and that reason only that the Government have decided to move this series of Amendments which will cause Clause 29 to operate not from the date of presentation of the Bill, in February, but from the date when it receives the Royal Assent. Fortunately, so far as I can tell, the insertion of the date in February brought to a full stop the practice, which was going on in a few quarters, of seeking to put what I call responsibilities for permanent repairs of a structural or major kind on to the short-term tenant. That has stopped and I do not see that there is perceptible risk of it starting again when everybody knows that this new Clause 29, which is capable of further amendment in another place—who can tell?—

None of us can be absolutely certain about what will happen between now and the time when the Bill reaches the Statute Book.

I concluded that the risk of that malpractice starting up again in that short intervening period would be negligible and would certainly be outweighed by the serious charge of deception which could be brought against Parliament it we sought to make effective from a date in February a Clause whose final form could not have been anticipated until a date in June.

Nothing more lies behind the series of Amendments. If we had not amended Clause 29, I would have resisted Amendments on Report to shift the date either forwards or backwards, but, having amended the Clause on Report, the Government are quite clear that the proper and right thing to do is to make Clause 29 operate from the date of the passing of the Bill.

The Minister has argued legalistically in support of this Amendment. This is a matter which has to be treated more widely than that, and considered not only on the basis of legalism but on the basis of justice and public policy. The whole question arises from the fact that agreements between landlords and tenants have been made in recent years and have been of a kind which ought never to have been made, agreements shifting the responsibility for major repairs on to the tenants even when there is a short-term lease.

Our objection, and the Minister's objection, to agreements of that kind is, first, that they are unfair, and, secondly, that they are bad for the property, because it must be known to any landlord who makes such agreements that the probable result is that the repairs will never get done. This was an evil in that it was an injustice to persons and an injury to property. It was an evil which arose directly from the Rent Act, 1957, because landlords were able to get these unreasonable agreements signed because of the enormous bargaining power which was put into their hands when rents were decontrolled in the present state of demand and supply of housing accommodation. We all know that that is so and in this Clause and all the discussions around it we have all been engaged in trying to pick up and repair the crockery which the Minister himself smashed when he piloted the Rent Act through the House.

We drew the Minister's attention to this evil last autumn, when many of my hon. Friends and I waged a campaign about the second outburst of Rent Act evils which occurred when the three-year agreements made in 1957 began to run out. Of all the evils resulting from the Rent Act which we then drew to his attention, only this produced an impression on him. The result of that impression was that he clearly warned landlords in his speech in the debate on the Gracious Speech on 8th November that legislation of this kind would be introduced. It is in the light of those facts that we have to ask ourselves, as these agreements are to be prohibited in future, how far back that prohibition should date.

We argued in Committee—and it still seems reasonable—that the prohibition should go back to the origin of the evil, to the date of the passing of the Rent Act itself. These agreements came into existence because Parliament, on the Minister's advice, passed an Act which allowed a social evil to grow up. The landlords who took advantage of that situation were inflicting an injury on their tenants and on the country, because of the effects on the state and upkeep of property. It was something which ought never to have been allowed and Parliament ought now to take the opportunity to repair as much of the damage as it can. That is why we argued in Committee that the date of the prohibition should go back to 1957, to the date of the Rent Act itself.

As we expected, the Government resisted that Amendment—I say no more about that now—and we were thus obviously prevented from raising that identical question on Report. Let us consider the alternatives which now lie before us. Another date to which the prohibition might be put back is that which the Minister himself recommended in the first place-16th February, the date of the publication of the Bill.

The reason for dating it so far back should be obvious enough to anyone who is aware of the problem. If a Bill is introduced on 16th February containing a prohibition of this kind, and the prohibition does not become operative until July or August, inescapably there is a rush by landlords to draw up as many agreements of this kind as they can before Parliament finally prevents them. Because of their bargaining power under the Rent Act they are in a position to carry through just such a rush.

4.0 p.m.

The Minister knows about what is called creeping decontrol, the fact that whenever a new tenancy arises with an uncontrolled tenancy the landlord is in a position to impose on the tenant an agreement of this kind. I do not suppose that a day passes without a tenant facing a demand of this kind. It is a case of, "If you want a roof over your head, sign an agreement which everyone knows is unjust, which is bad for the property, and which, in a month or two, Parliament will forbid".

The Minister says that his information is that since the Bill was published in February attempts to make agreements of this kind have stopped. How can he know that? What is the source of information from which an extraordinarily general negative statement of that kind can be derived? Is he so certain that advantage will not be taken of the remaining stages of the Bill to redouble the rush to put through agreements of this kind?

The case for dating this prohibition back to at least 16th February was unanswerable, as the Minister knew very well when he put the date in the Bill originally. He also knew that it was unanswerable when he argued against the Amendment moved by his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), in Committee upstairs. Why has the Minister changed his mind? This was really the substance of his speech. He said, "I have changed my mind. I will allow agreements of this kind to go on being made until the Act is on the Statute Book because we have changed the nature of the Clause. We have altered the definition of what may or may not be allowed in the agreement".

Let us consider the nature of those changes. First, I had better clear up one point. I said in Committee upstairs that if we made changes in Clause 29 which took us further than the general idea of placing on landlords responsibilities which, in common sense, belonged to them, then there would be a case for not making the provisions retrospective. Perhaps I might quote what I said so that there can be no mistake about it. I said:
"Suppose Parliament makes further alterations in Clause 29. I have been arguing—I think correctly—that everybody likely to be concerned had good reason to know that the law was being altered in a way that would put the responsibility for major repairs in short leases where it properly belongs—on the landlord. Everyone knew that general proposition.
So far, in the wording of Clause 29 or in any Amendment to it that might be made, we have been within the ambit of that general proposition. If it were now proposed to make changes in Clause 29 which would go much further than that and put upon the landlord obligations which nobody who had studied the paragraph in the Queen's Speech or the remarks of the Minister could reasonably have supposed them to imply, there would be a case; provisions of that kind ought not to come into force until the Bill was passed into law. While, however, Clause 29 remains within the ambit of that general proposition which I have enunciated—the general proposition that the responsibility for major repairs in short leases should lie on the landlord—nobody can complain that that should come into force at least from the time when the Bill was published."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th June, 1961; c. 990–1.]
I stand by every word of what I said there, and no changes made or proposed to be made in Clause 29 have taken us outside the ambit of that general proposition. When one considers the changes which have been made, one finds that they amount to no more than this, that they spell out rather more precisely what was clearly implied, though in less precise language, in the original wording of Clause 29.

There are two points on which it might be suggested that there has been a change. One is the specific inclusion of an appliance for space heating and water heating. Let us be quite clear about this. This does not apply to any movable appliances which may belong to the tenant and which he can pick up and take away when he goes. It does not apply to a portable electric fire. It applies, as the Minister said, to such things as the geyser and the radiator—in effect, permanent parts of the house. Is the Minister or anyone else going to say that those things would not reasonably be understood to be within the meaning of the words "principal installations"?

That is all that has happened. It has been spelt out for anyone who might choose to be awkward that the words "principal installations" when applied to heating mean what any reasonable person would have supposed them to mean. We cannot imagine that any landlord can complain and say, "When I read what the Minister said in November, and when I saw the Bill, I had no idea that it was wrong to make the tenant responsible for anything that might happen to the heating system or to the radiators". That is one change.

What is the other? When one sorts out the complexity of the Amendments, it amounts to no more than this, that it is now made clear that the landlord is to be responsible for wash-basins, sinks and baths. And why not? I would have thought that one's bath was a principal installation in the house. If anyone suggests that a sink is not a principal installation, he should try living for a time in a dwelling without a sink.

That is the sum total of the changes. That is all the justification the Minister can show for going back on the argument he put before the Committee upstairs, and giving landlords two or three months more in which to bully tenants into making unjust agreements. The Minister says that if we do not give them that opportunity we shall be practising deception. What right has any landlord who tries to put an agreement of this kind on his tenant to talk about being deceived? He who seeks equity must do equity. I wonder whether there is to be found anywhere a landlord who has been thrusting this agreement on to his tenant who would be impudent enough to come forward and say, "I have been deceived. I thought that I was to be allowed to go on injuring the country's stock of property and oppressing my tenant for another three months, but now it is not to be allowed". Is that the sort of plea to which the House is being asked to listen?

We ought to notice what the Minister said when he gave his reasons for rejecting an Amendment substantially the same as the one he is now defending. He was resisting the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Crosby. He said:
"A statement in quite general terms was made in the Gracious Speech in November. This Bill was introduced in February. The proposition here—the proposition which I hope the Committee will uphold—is that these Clauses of the Bill should come into operation from the date of publication because it would be wrong to offer an invitation to those concerned with these matters to put into a lease or contract something—provided that it was done before the Bill reached the Statute Book—of which Parliament was in process of expressing its disapproval."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th June, 1961; c. 994.]
That is exactly the invitation that the Minister is now offering them. The hon. Member for Crosby has had his way.

At the close of one of the many meetings of the Standing Committee I remember engaging in a casual conversation with some of my hon. Friends, the subject of which was whether we could have a worse Minister of Housing and Local Government than the right hon. Gentleman. He will be gratified to know that, in the light of what we had heard and seen in Committee, I took the view that we could; we might have the hon. Member for Crosby. I now recognise that those of my hon. Friends who argued that when it came to the point there was not all that difference were quite right. We find the Minister's surrender graciously acknowledged by his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, who has put his name to the Minister's Amendment. Indeed, the scholarly lips of the Parliamentary Secretary are spelling the words non tali auxilio, which I can best translate as "Spare us from our friends."

Does not the hon. Member agree that that, whatever the merits of his case, it is highly undesirable that Parliament should pass retrospective legislation?

I do not think that the hon. Member has grasped the point. We pass retrospective legislation—in the sense that it achieves retrospection—every year, when we allow decisions made on Budget day to have the force of law from that moment, and do not enact them on the Statute Book until months later.

Does not the hon. Member agree that that is a generally accepted exception, whereas this is a specific instance where we are trying to alter retrospectively one aspect of the law?

No. If the hon. Member will study the Bill he will see that those parts which relate to subsidy provisions arrange that they shall apply to housing projects on which local authorities shall have entered before 16th February, despite the fact that the Bill is not yet on the Statute Book. Those arrangements which give legal effect to provisions from the date of the announcement of the Budget, the ones referring to subsidies in the Bill, and this one, as originally justified by the Minister, are made for the very good reason that if we do not make them we are creating a public mischief, because we allow people to obtain an advantage out of doing something which is anti-social during the months in which the Bill is being passed into law. That was the argument accepted by the Minister. He does not stand where the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Glyn) is endeavouring to stand on this point.

That brings me to my Amendment, which we are also discussing. That Amendment would back-date the provision to 8th November, 1960, and I shall show shortly why I choose that date. I refer to it at this point because I think that the Minister's own arguments in Committee show why we ought not to allow or encourage a rush to make agreements between the date when people could reasonably have known what was coming and the date when the Bill will be on the Statute Book. If we accept that principle, surely it takes us back to the day on which the Minister made a clear and unequivocal announcement for any landlord interested in the matter—and any landlord ought to have been interested in the matter—to see and to understand. If we do not back-date it, as the Amendment suggests, to 8th November last, we shall have been conniving in the rush of those agreements that have been going on through these months.

Shrortly before the debate began my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), who, I hope, may catch your eye during the course of the debate, Mr. Speaker, drew my attention to a letter he had received from his local authority. That authority, in the course of executing its public health duties, found that there was a proliferation of these agreements which put the responsibility for major repairs upon the tenant in the case of a short lease, with the result tha