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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 644: debated on Wednesday 12 July 1961

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Employment

Trade Union Act, 1871 (Section 12)

1.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will request the Chief Registrar to make a special report with regard to his responsibilities under Section 12 of the Trade Union Act, 1871, in so far as they relate to trades union voting papers and other documents.

The Chief Registrar is already required to report annually on his work under the Act and when appropriate his annual report refers to matters arising under Section 12.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that rank and file trade unionists are entitled as of right to have trade union business, including elections, conducted honestly and properly, and that the only external check against possible fraud by trade union officials is the right of the Chief Registrar to prosecute under Section 12? Will he bear in mind that in 1958 the Chief Registrar reported that his duties in this respect were impeded by the refusal of certain trade unions to provide him with the relevant documents and other necessary evidence? Will he bear in mind the national importance of this subject and, in view of the great public anxiety in this matter, will he take the necessary steps to ensure that the rights of the rank and file trade unionists may be better protected?

I am advised that the powers under Section 12 are designed to protect the property of the unions and would not be appropriate for the sort of situation which my hon. Friend has in mind. In answer to his general point, I am studying the recent judgment in this case, together with all other factors, and, obviously, I have no more to say about it at the moment.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the ninety years which have elapsed since the 1871 Act, the clean decency of the British trade union movement has commended itself to the whole world and that now that there has been a smear inflicted on it by a totally unrepresentative clique of people—

Order. There is difficulty about this. I am not certain what the "smear" is, but this judgment is the subject matter of an appeal.

I was merely following what the Minister was saying. I was about to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that we on this side of the House are always extremely concerned at these matters; that we shall do our very best to ensure that the public responsibilities of the unions are met; and that the best way to do that is to allow the T.U.C. to go on with its work.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think that we have to look at this matter calmly and in its true perspective. We do not want to take one incident as being typical. This matter has caused a great deal of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to the country, and we have to give it serious consideration.

5.

asked the Minister of Labour, in view of the judgment given in the case of Byrne and Chapple v. Foulkes and Haxell, how many breaches of Section 12 of the Trade Union Act, 1871, insofar as they relate to trade unions voting papers, have been reported by the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies in the past ten years.

The Chief Registrar has made no reports on this subject. The purpose of Section 12 of the Trade Union Act, 1871, is, of course, to protect the property of a trade union. I said this earlier in answer to a supplementary question. This was not an issue in this case.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be extremely unfortunate if this unique and isolated incident were used as a basis to mount an ill-informed attack on the trade union movement in general? Will he take steps, by a public announcement, to make clear to the country at large that this is isolated and highly unusual?

I do not think that anyone is making attacks on the trade unions. All I have said is that these are serious matters. Both sides of the House share concern about them. We have to examine the whole problem, not in the light of this one incident, but in the context of the position as a whole.

Newcast Foundries Limited, Newcastle-Under-Lyme

3.

asked the Minister of Labour for how long his Department has been trying to find suitable workers to fill vacancies at Newcast Foundries Limited, of Newcastle-under-Lyme; and after what period of time he will be prepared to consider an application for labour permits for foreign workers.

There are at present sixteen unfilled vacancies with this firm which were notified to the employment exchange on 18th May. We are now prepared to consider an application from the firm to employ suitably qualified foreign workers.

While thanking the Parliamentary Secretary very much for the good work he has achieved so rapidly in adopting a more reasonable attitude to these applications, may I ask if he will comment on the fact that so much difficulty is being found by his Department, in view of the unemployment that exists, in trying to meet the demands from this firm for workers in the foundries?

Naturally, we seek to fill vacancies wherever possible locally. The vacancies are circulated in addition, of course, to other employment exchanges but there is difficulty in filling these places as there is a shortage of lodging accommodation, as I expect the hon. Member quite understands. It takes perhaps a fortnight to establish the fact that there are no home citizens available to fill these jobs. It seldom, if ever, takes more than a month, and, as soon as that has been established, we consider applications to employ foreign labour.

Newcastle-Under-Lyme

4.

asked the Minister of Labour for the latest date for which figures are available, how many unemployed persons and how many unfilled vacancies there were in Newcastle-under-Lyme; how many of the persons unemployed were disabled; how many of the vacancies available were in foundries; and what difficulties were being encountered in trying to fill them.

On 12th June, 1961, there were 302 males and 140 females registered as unemployed in Newcastle-under-Lyme, of whom 85 males and 23 females were disabled persons.

Unfilled vacancies on 5th July, 1961, were 563 for males and 192 for females, of which 22 for males were in foundries. There are very few foundry workers registered as unemployed and vacancies, particularly for skilled workers, are not easy to fill.

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for those figures, may I ask if he has noted the fact that there still remains a residue of registered disabled workers in Newcastle-under-Lyme who for a long period have been unable to find work? Will he endeavour to use the good offices of his Department to try to bring to Newcastle-under-Lyme some special form of employment that would enable these disabled workers to have a future?

I should like to assure the hon. Member, as I think he knows, that this is a matter very close to the heart of the Department. I believe it is also true and fair to say that employers generally try to fulfil their obligations and duties towards these disabled workers. Perhaps the hon. Member would like to know that there are twenty-six people in this area who are in section 2 of the Disabled Register for whom only sheltered employment is possible or suitable.

Apprenticeships

6.

asked the Minister of Labour what is his estimate of the percentage of boys and girls who having been recorded as apprentices in his Department's apprentice statistics subsequently have their apprenticeships terminated.

What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the error in the figures given by youth employment officers to his Department when they made up the original figure? Is is not based on the report by boys and girls who go to the youth employment officer because they think they have apprenticeships offered to them and in fact have not?

I believe that the figures are pretty accurate. I think that the hon. Member knows how difficult it is to achieve supreme accuracy in this matter. Our figures show that where wastage is due to premature terminations, this is more than offset by late entrants to apprenticeship. I think that, broadly speaking, we can rely on these figures.

Would the Minister agree that three years ago the Carr Committee recommended that he should have far more complete statistics of the number of people in apprenticeship training and so on? What is he doing to carry out that recommendation?

The main task of the Youth Employment Service is to get on with the job of advising young people in finding jobs and apprenticeships. If we put on the Service this heavy demand for extra statistics, the officers would be taken away from the crucial job of work which they have to do at the moment.

Street Newsvendors

7.

asked the Minister of Labour what steps he proposes to take to include street newsvendors within the wages and holiday provisions laid down by the Retail Newsagency, Tobacco and Confectionery Wages Council and if he proposes to amend Statutory Instrument, 1960/1 (R.N.T. (26)) accordingly.

Minimum remuneration for street newsvendors has been provided ever since the Council was set up but these workers are not covered by any holiday provisions. My right hon. Friend has no power either to amend the relevant Order without proposals from the Council, or to require the Council to make particular proposals.

Would not my hon. Friend agree that it is only because of the method by which these men are paid that they appear to be self-employed, but that in fact they are actually employed by the big newspapers? Would he, therefore, agree that they are entitled to holidays with pay and other benefits? Will he look into the matter further?

As my hon. Friend knows—and I agree with him—there are two types of person involved in this form of occupation. I think it a fact that one street newsvendor raised the question of holidays with the Council when it published its first proposals in 1949. The Council did not feel able to prescribe holidays with pay at that time. Since then no further representations have been received from these people, but, if my hon. Friend has further representations to make, I shall be glad to receive them.

Shipyard, Birkenhead (Demarcation Dispute)

8.

asked the Minister of Labour what action he is now taking to end the inter-union demarcation dispute at Cammell Laird's shipbuilding yard at Birkenhead.

The General Council of the Trades Union Congress arranged a meeting of the two unions concerned in this dispute on 6th July. They agreed to seek clarification of an earlier arbitration award dealing with work claimed by each of them. I have arranged for the arbitrator to hear representatives of the unions on Friday next.

Whilst welcoming that statement, may I ask if my right hon. Friend does not agree that these continued disputes are completely destroying confidence in the British shipbuilding industry? Does he not consider that there is a duty on his Department to take positive steps to prevent their recurrence instead of intervening at a late stage when the damage has already been done?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the very serious effects which these disputes have. I think that they do great damage to the industry as a whole, as well as, of course, to the individual men who work in the industry. I should point out that there is a demarcation procedure agreement which has been agreed by the unions. I hope that they can make more use of it. As a result of the meeting on 6th July, a member of the General Council of the T.U.C. is to act as chairman of a meeting between the executives of the two unions. The object is to go over the whole question of the relationship of these unions and the operation of the procedure agreement dealing with demarcation issues. No date has been fixed for the meeting, but I hope that useful results will flow from it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise—surprising though it may seem to him—how relieved we on this side of the House are to see him back again and how glad we are that we could prevent his stand-in from doing any damage while he was away?

Order. It is very difficult to discover how that arises from the Answer.

Laboratories, Technical Colleges And University Departments (Safety)

9.

asked the Minister of Labour what action is taken by the Factory Inspectorate, and on what basis, to ensure safe conditions in the laboratories of technical colleges and university departments; and whether he will take steps to extend the scope of the Factory Inspectorate in this respect.

The closest contact is maintained between my inspectors and Her Majesty's inspectors of schools in advising local education authorities and technical colleges on these questions. The Factory Inspectorate is also helping to prepare a code of practice for protection against radiation hazards in research establishments.

Does not the Minister agree with me that that Answer is not completely satisfactory? As long ago as 1949 the Gowers Report suggested that legislation should be framed to cover students in colleges of this kind. Does he not recall that we discussed the matter in Committee on the Factories Bill some two or three years ago? Will he not accede to the second half of my Question and promise to bring in legislation to cover these students?

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Member. My information is that the present arrangements are working satisfactorily. My advice is available and is readily sought in both colleges and universities. Unless the hon. Member has information which I do not possess, I do not think that he is justified in asking for legislation.

On a point of order. In view of the fact that I am not content with that answer, I shall ask leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment on the first possible occasion.

School Leavers, Central West Fife

10.

asked the Minister of Labour how many school leavers there will be in Central West Fife at the end of the current school year; and how many vacancies exist for them now at the local employment exchanges.

About 335 boys and 350 girls. On 5th July there were at the local Youth Employment Offices 59 notified vacancies for boys, plus an unspecified number of vacancies with the National Coal Board, and 81 for girls.

Does not the Minister recognise that this reveals a deplorable situation in which the prospects for boys and girls in this area are certainly worse than the average of the United Kingdom and worse than for Scotland as a whole? Can he give any hope that there will be some amelioration of the situation very soon? Does he recognise that boys and girls in their tender adolescent years are having to leave these areas for the Midlands and the South and that parents are desperately anxious that the Government should do something about it?

I appreciate the hon. Member's concern and I am sure that he realises that he is not the only one to have that concern. It might be some comfort to him to know that, despite the figures which have been given, all but five of the 561 Easter school leavers were working by mid-May. It is therefore possible to misinterpret the figures which I have just given. If one looks back on the recent history, one finds that practically all the school leavers found employment in the area. But I realise his anxiety, all the same. Perhaps he would like to know that the National Coal Board, for example, the Royal Naval Dockyard and the Central Electricity Board, and so on, are all arranging to increase their intake of young people.

Is the Minister aware that all hon. Members are not only concerned about whether these young people obtain employment. We are very much concerned about the kind of employment which they obtain. The graph shows that there is nothing like sufficient of them obtaining skilled work or work which requires technical training of any type.

I appreciate the general problem of the area and we are doing our best about it. It is, of course, true that if some travel to work can be accepted the prospects of a range of employment, as well as mere employment, are very much wider.

Industrial Relations (Commonwealth Countries And Colonial Territories)

11.

asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of his speech at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, when he spoke of the acute shortage of men with ability and experience in labour affairs, with special regard to developing countries, he will consider inviting more trade unionists from the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to this country to study British labour relations under the auspices of his Department.

I have made places available on industrial relations courses for trade unionists from Commonwealth countries and Colonial Territories in Africa. I am shortly expecting nominations from them for the next course which will be held in the autumn.

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him to continue to bear in mind that in these developing countries labour relations are of the utmost importance and that it would be a great tragedy if the enormous potential of the Federation were to be undermined through inexperienced trade union leaders?

I very much agree with the hon. Member. That was the burden of the speech which I made in Geneva to which he referred.

Industrial Accidents

12.

asked the Minister of Labour what special efforts he proposes to arrest the rapidy increasing number of industrial accidents, particularly among young people.

I am considering with representatives of employers and trades unions what more can be done to promote safe methods of work and in particular to give young people sound safety training.

In view of the fact that the accident rate is increasing, despite reasonable precautions being taken, does the Minister agree that the extensive use of cinema films in works canteens showing the dangers in modern industry is probably the best way of getting this across at any rate to the younger people in industry?

That is a useful suggestion which I will certainly consider. It is not only a question of doing this when the young person has arrived in the factory and taken up his job. More can be done in schools and colleges, and here my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education intends to help to do more than is already being done. But I still think—and the hon. Member's idea is a contribution to it—that the main work is for all of us to preach the need for promoting safety-mindedness in industry. Individually we can all make contributions.

School Leavers (Apprenticeships)

13.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will make a further statement on the prospects for those leaving school this summer so far as apprenticeships and other training opportunities are concerned; and whether there is any prospect of an increase in training facilities commensurate with the large increase in school leavers.

Preliminary reports covering the first few months of this year—and I must emphasise their provisional nature—which I have received from the Youth Employment Service indicate that the number of apprenticeships and learnerships is keeping pace with the substantial increase in the number of school leavers starting work.

While welcoming that reply, may I ask the Minister whether he will make a further statement before the House rises for the Summer Recess bearing in mind that we shall rise about the time that a great number of these school leavers will be leaving school? Will he bear in mind the great anxiety on both sides of the House about this, particularly in such areas as Scotland and the North-East Coast, where local unemployment is likely to aggravate the problem and to prevent training places from being found for these young people?

I emphasised in my Answer the preliminary nature of these reports. I do not want to mislead the House, but frankly I am relieved that the reports which I am receiving from every region of the country are far more satisfactory than perhaps some of the critics thought they would be.

The Minister said that the reports which he is receiving from every region of the country are far more satisfactory than he expected. Does that apply to Scotland? In particular, does it apply to Lanarkshire, where unemployment is high, where the last pit closes tomorrow in one area and where many jobs are folding up this week-end?

It does not apply to Lanarkshire, but it applies to Scotland as a whole. We have to be very careful. I do not want to mislead the House and I prefer to wait until I can give sound figures, but my general impression, which I thought the House would like, is that we are getting on with this job rather better than some people feared.

In considering the figures from different areas, will the Minister take a special look at what is being done in the Wakefield area to see whether that might provide a lesson as to how training opportunities can be improved in other areas within the existing framework?

My hon. Friend has already discussed this matter with me. The example set by the Wakefield area is one from which all of us could benefit.

Factory Inspectorate (Strength)

14.

asked the Minister of Labour what is the present strength of the Factory Inspectorate, in both its general and specialised branches; and whether, in view of the increase in industrial accidents, he will make a substantial increase in the establishment to enable workplaces to be inspected more frequently.

On 3rd July, 1961, in addition to the chief inspector and four deputy chief inspectors, 339 inspectors were employed in the general inspectorate and 71 in the specialist branches. I keep the establishment of the Factory Inspectorate under constant review and I shall certainly bear this factor in mind when I consider the forthcoming Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories.

Are there not a number of urgent reasons for increasing the establishment? Does the Minister agree that the increase in accidents is alarming and that the frequency of inspection is one aspect of the problem which is under his direct control? Does he agree that we are inspecting our industrial establishments far less frequently than the standards laid down by the I.L.O.? Does he also agree that the recent regulations issued by his Department have increased the burden on the inspectorate? For all those reasons, does he think that there is a chance that he will increase the establishment in the near future?

I cannot make any promise about that. In 1960, of the 219,526 factories on our register, 100,518 were visited.

Is it not a fact that the I.L.O. recommendation some years ago, which was endorsed by this country, laid down a standard of one visit per year for every factory? The figures which the Minister has just given represent about one visit every two years or even less.

I note what the hon. Member said, but although we accepted the recommendation at the time, our binding obligations relate to the 1947 Convention and not to the recommendation.

Building Operations (Accidents)

2.

asked the Minister of Labour if he is now in a position to publish an analysis of the reasons for the increase of accidents in building operations during 1960.

An analysis of these accident figures, with a commentary, will be published in the Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories in September.

Would not it be more convenient if that Report were published now? Is not it a serious matter? Are not the Government concerned about the activities of the building industry? Are not excessive speculation and excessive profits one reason why there are accidents in the industry?

I do not know about that. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I have already expressed my great concern about the increase in accidents. It is because I want the matter to be considered thoroughly, and because I want to see that the work is not skimped, that a little extra time has been taken. The Report will be published in September.

Royal Navy

Repair Yard, Evanton (Sale)

15.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether, in disposing of the establishment at Evanton, Ross-shire, he consulted the Minister of Labour about employment prospects in that area.

Before selling the Repair Yard at Evanton the Admiralty had consultations on the employment aspects with the Distribution of Industry Panel for Scotland, on which the Minis- try of Labour is represented. We also consulted the Board of Trade and the Scottish Office.

Does not the Minister agree that in disposing of the site to someone who was just marginally the highest tenderer he reduced the employment prospects in the area, as it has been reported to me, by about 30 or 35? Is not this worth looking at?

Two of the tenderers had expressed the intention to develop the site industrially, and the panel which looked into the matter knew of no reason to regard either as likely to give more or less employment than the other. I think that some of the facts given are perhaps incorrect. I have every reason to believe that the present purchaser will give as much employment locally as the other person might have done.

Is it not rather surprising that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has not the graciousness to inform the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty—myself—that he intended to put this Question on the Order Paper and that at no time has he ever asked me personally for my support, although my interest in industrial development in the Highlands is well known? Further, is the Minister aware that I have had a letter from the purchaser stating that one large hangar is to be used by an industrialist, a group of workshop buildings has been acquired for development, one of the large buildings is being moved to Evanton to expand an existing business

"and I have retained a further croup of buildings with floor space of about 18,000 sq. ft. for industry."

Order. We do not allow block quotations from documents during Questions.

I was pointing out that the hon. Member for Leeds, West must be pleased about this extra employment which is to be provided by this purchaser.

Order. If that was not a question, I should not allow block quotations in a point of order.

In view of that attack upon me, may I make it clear that at no time have I been interested in the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod). As the Civil Lord knows, my concern has been in the interests of a constituent of mine, a tenderer who considered that he was disadvantaged. He was largely disadvantaged because of the intervention of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty on behalf of one of his friends.

Surely I am entitled to object most strongly to that and to ask the hon. Member to withdraw it, because what he said is not the case at all.

All implications are out of order at Question Time, and I require the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) to withdraw that part of the expression which he used.

I find myself in some difficulty, Mr. Speaker, in knowing what you wish me to withdraw, because I was subjected to an attack from the other side of the House.

Let me assist the hon. Member, and express the hope that we can get on with Questions. I do not quote his exact words, but he said something to the effect that some obstacle had been raised by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty on behalf of one of his friends. It is that expression which I require him to withdraw.

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, if I substitute the word "constituent" for the word "friend", would that meet your wishes?

On a point of order. I strongly object even to that. There is no foundation for that.

I was considering whether that met the requirement. I think that it does.

Disposal Of Property And Plant (Procedure)

16.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to what extent it is the practice of his Department to accept always the highest tender for properties and plant to be disposed of; and to what extent he consults other Departments in order to safeguard the wider public interest.

The Admiralty always sells at the highest price unless there are special reasons in the wider public interest for preferring some lower offer. Because of these wider interests the Admiralty invariably consults other Departments before disposal. Properties suitable for industrial use are considered by the Board of Trade—in the light of its statutory responsibilities under the Local Employment Act, 1960—in concert with the Ministry of Labour and any other interested Departments such as the Scottish Office.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that no wider public interest was served on this occasion, only the question of price?

We believed that the employment probabilities of both competing tenderers were equal. The Board of Trade judged the same. Therefore, we took notice of the advantage of the taxpayers and accepted the highest offer.

Frigates (Sale To Portugal)

17.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what sum has been paid by the Government of Portugal for two Bay class frigates of the British Navy recently sold to that Government; and how much the refitting and modernising of these warships prior to sale cost.

The purchase price of ships sold to other navies is a confidential matter between Her Majesty's Government and the purchaser. The Answer to the second part of the Question is that these ships were to be refitted not by the Admiralty but by private negotiations between the purchaser and a British shipbuilding firm.

Perhaps the Civil Lord will tell me whether the purchase price took into account any restriction upon the use of the ships and whether the same restriction applied to these ships as applied to the provision of arms to Portugal. I hope that he can tell us that the ships are not to be used for conveying troops to any of the Portuguese colonies or for any operation on the coasts of those colonies.

It has been made clear in many debates and Questions in the House that these ships were sold in order to replace over-age destroyers which were being scrapped and to allow Portugal to meet her N.A.T.O. obligations.

Naval And Civil Establishments (Security)

18.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what basic differences exist in the application of security regulations to Admiralty civil establishments and naval shore establishments, respectively; and whether he is satisfied that there is no weakness in the security system resulting from such differences.

There are no basic differences in the regulations applied to naval and civil establishments respectively.

I thank the Civil Lord for that reply. I wonder if he can satisfy the House on two further points. First, is it correct that the captain in charge, Portland, before this particular incident recommended that Henry Houghton should not be employed in Her Majesty's dockyard? Secondly, in view of the serious breach of security in the Admiralty civil establishment, is it not odd that two naval officers have been named but not, as yet, any civilians?

On the first point, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, it is undesirable to try to put a gloss or an explanation on the summary which has already been laid before the House. On the second point, two out of the three persons named were civilians at the time. One is a civilian. One was an ex-naval officer who had been a civilian for some time before his employment. It is true that the third was a serving naval officer at that time.

Security (Romer Committee's Report)

19.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether the allegation made in 1954 that Henry Houghton was taking secret papers out of the Underwater Detection Establishment at Portland, as stated in paragraph 4 of the summary of the Romer Committee's findings, was true.

As I said on 5th July, I cannot elaborate on the summary of the Romer Committee's main findings which has been circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Does the Civil Lord recollect telling me on 20th June that in fact Houghton never had any access to secret information? Must not that fact have been perfectly well known to his immediate superior, to whom this allegation was made? In that case, does it not render that person very much more culpable than if in fact Houghton had had such access, because in that case he might merely have been taking the stuff home to do a little homework? In those circumstances, can my hon. Friend say whether this junior official has been suspended from duty prior to the disciplinary action which no doubt it is intended to bring against him?

As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, all these three persons are the subject of disciplinary proceedings at the moment and it would be wrong to anticipate the outcome of those proceedings.

25.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what disciplinary measures have been taken arising from the Report of the Romer Committee.

In view of the scathing comments made by the Romer Committee, why is it taking the Admiralty so long to decide what it is to do? Is there any reason for the delay? Surely, all the facts are known by now—or I should hope so.

I think it only right that people who have been accused should be given a proper opportunity to defend themselves, and make counter-statements. We are looking into the matter, and hope in due course to make a statement of our reply.

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by the words "due course"? When does he expect to be able to make a statement?

I imagine, probably two or three weeks—something of that sort of period.

Hospital, Gillingham (Equipment And Stores)

20.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what happened to the medical equipment and stores at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gillingham, when it was vacated by the Royal Navy.

In accordance with the normal practice when an establishment is closed down, all the equipment and stores were carefully surveyed. Serviceable medical equipment and stores were either transferred to other R.N. medical establishments or returned to R.N. storage depots for further use. Unserviceable equipment or stores, including small quantities of drugs whose limited life had expired were destroyed, or were dealt with as scrap. Fixed hospital fittings were handed over to the Ministry of Health.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that allegations were made by persons who were employed at the time of the hand-over of the hospital to the National Health Service that they had burned or otherwise disposed of drugs and medical equipment to the value of £7,000, and that the burning and destruction took no less than fourteen days? I accept that in a complete evacuation such as took place here much of the equipment which had been there for many years was useless, but will my hon. Friend ask for a stock list of what should have been transferred and compare it with the figure he subsequently received?

My information is that nothing serviceable was destroyed, but if my hon. Friend has any evidence to the contrary I will certainly consider it and look at the stock list position.

Aircraft Carriers

21.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty at what date existing aircraft carriers will become obsolete; and what plans he has for their replacement.

Our five operational carriers will all have a first-class capability until at least the early 1970s. No decision has yet been taken about replacements, but we are studying the characteristics which they would need.

Would my hon. Friend bear in mind that it might be better, from the point of view both of defence and of cost, not to replace these vessels by aircraft carriers but to lay down missile submarines? Can my hon. Friend say when the Admiralty is likely to reach a decision on this matter?

I should think that recent events in Kuwait showed how valuable an aircraft carrier is, not only to provide radar cover and control facilities—[Interruption.]—yes, the commando carrier has been reinforced by "Victorious", an aircraft carrier, and these carriers are absolutely invaluable in the present climate and difficulties in the world.

Can the Civil Lord give an assurance that before the Admiralty comes to a decision on this, there will be a debate in this House, as very strong views are held on both sides as to whether or no we should persist in replacing these aircraft carriers?

Some time may elapse before we start on the programme. As I say, no decision has yet been taken about replacements. An aircraft carrier normally lasts twenty years, and if we do a major modernisation on it, it will last ten years after that. So we need not rush into a decision on this important matter.

The Civil Lord cannot be asked about arrangements for business. He does not arrange business.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Admiralty makes the decision, and all we ask is that it should not be made until after there has been a full debate in this House.

Assault Ship

22.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty when he expects the new assault ship to be laid down and to be launched.

23.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what progress is being made with the construction of the assault ship.

We hope to invite tenders by the end of this month, and we shall then need time to consider the response before an order is placed. It is too early to say when the ship will be laid down and launched.

While accepting my hon. Friend's view that the Kuwait operations illustrate the success of the commando carrier concept, do they not also illustrate the fact that it is essential to have an assault ship capable of keeping up with the commando carrier and of landing both transport and armour? Will my hon. Friend press forward with the completion of this ship, and get on with the laying down of a second?

It is important to get the tenders out first, then consider them, and then get the ship laid down before we consider a second.

As the Admiralty has known that such a ship has been required for many years now, has it not been very dilatory, and should it not now try to get the ship completed as quickly as possible?

Considerable improvements have been effected during the period. We have taken the best lessons of American and other practice and have built them in the design of this ship which, we think, will be the better for them.

Hms "Albion"

24.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what steps are being taken to expedite the conversion of H.M.S. "Albion" to the rôle of commando carrier.

Special steps were taken to fit H.M.S. "Albion" into the dockyard programme at Portsmouth. She will be completed as soon as possible consistent with incorporating in her the lessons learnt with H.M.S. "Bulwark".

As recent events have shown the importance of these ships, can the Civil Lord say when this one is likely to be finished?

We would hope that she would become operational towards the end of next year.

They will operate concurrently, one east and one west of Suez. To maintain continuous availability east of Suez, the carrier west of the Canal will be refitting part of the time.

Chief Of Security

26.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty when the new chief of security in his Department will be appointed.

My noble Friend hopes to make an announcement before the House rises for the Summer Recess.

In view of the urgent need for effective control of naval security, will the Civil Lord hasten the appointment of a competent person? Will he see that whoever is appointed is not just an ordinary civil servant or a "brass hat" on the verge of retirement, but someone who has some experience of security methods?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my noble Friend is aware, as I am, of the need to have the best possible man for this very important job.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the Admiralty's security arrangements in view of the fact that yet another Admiralty official was arrested yesterday, according to the Press, and charged under the Official Secrets Act?

I am not responsible for reports in the Press, but I can say that the report this morning that a security leakage involving top secret experimental work on nuclear-powered submarines is being investigated is completely untrue; and most of the statements in the rest of the article have no foundation.

Will the Civil Lord see that the person who is appointed is someone who has previous experience of security work?

Admiralty Departments (Select Committee's Report)

27.

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what further steps have been taken to concentrate Admiralty departments at one site, in pursuance of Recommendation 6 of the First Report from the Select Committee on Estimates in Session 1959–60, in view of the recent decision to amalgamate sections of the Naval Accounts Departments at Bath.

As already announced, the Dockyards and Maintenance Department has already been concentrated on one site in Bath, and the Radio Division of the Weapons Department, at present in London, will join its parent department in Bath in mid-1962.

The move of the Accounts Department to Bath in mid-1962 will leave two branches in London. The intention is to move them to Bath also as part of a long-term redeployment plan, but this will involve new building.

The Admiralty is vacating Queen Anne's Mansions and its offices in Pinner next year, and concentrating approximately 1,900 staff in the new Empress State Building at Earls Court. This will achieve economies in common services and contribute to greater inter-departmental efficiency.

Whilst expressing satisfaction with the progress that is being made with the first part of Recommendation No. 6, may I ask my hon. Friend whether equal progress has been made in the implementation of the second part of that recommendation.

The concentration of the whole of the Department in one place does mean that there is less call on the Director-General to have to travel. We in the Admiralty are trying to exercise economy in this respect, and are trying to avoid calling the Director-General up from Bath unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.

British Army

General Pina (Visit)

28.

asked the Secretary of State for War what was the subject of the recent negotiations in London between General Pina, chief of staff of the Portuguese army, and representatives of Her Majesty's Government.

I have nothing to add to my Answer to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on 27th June.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) showed me that Answer. In that Answer, the Secretary of State stated that there were discussions about N.A.T.O. problems. Can the right hon. Gentleman solve a problem which is puzzling many of us: how will it be possible to provide Portugal with arms restricted to N.A.T.O. purposes and not to be used in Portugal's overseas territories? How is it possible?

If I may stick to the Question on the Order Paper, there were no discussions about arms—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—there were no discussions about arms during this visit, and no inquiries were made of my Department then, nor have any been made since.

Why not? Surely, this is precisely the moment to make some effort to see that these arms do not go to Angola.

I said that there was no discussion. General Pina, whose visit is the subject of this Question, did not enter into any discussions about arms, and there have been no inquiries of my Department about arms, either then or since.

In view of the grave situation in Angola, and the feeling expressed in this House in last week's debate, did the right hon. Gentleman discuss the position in Angola with General Pina, and ask him to take up the matter with his Government with a view to Portugal desisting from the atrocities there?

Land, Malta

30.

asked the Secretary of State for War how much was paid for a plot of land known as Tal Basal at Delimara, Malta, which was purchased by the War Department in February, 1942, for use as a machine-gun post; to whom the land has been sold subsequently; what price was paid for it; and whether the former owners were given the opportunity of repurchasing.

This land, purchased from a private seller in 1942, was sold this year to Mr. Nicholas Scerri by open tender. It is contrary to Government practice to disclose the prices paid for land bought from a private seller or obtained for land if sold by tender. The former owners were given facilities to tender for its purchase, but were unsuccessful.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that in cases such as this the person from whom the land was compulsorily acquired should be given an opportunity to buy it back and that these people were, in fact, prepared to pay a considerably larger sum than that which they received? Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that in the future he will see that people are reasonably treated in these matters?

I would not say that my hon. Friend's constituents were not treated properly, because the land was bought freehold and was not requisitioned. At the same time, we gave the owners an opportunity to repurchase the land. There was no reservation of pre-emptive rights in the original sale, and my Department is, of course, bound to get the best value it can in the current market.

19Th Brigade Group (Exercise)

31.

asked the Secretary of State for War why the exercise planned for the 19th Brigade Group in Portugal was cancelled; and what alternative exercise is planned.

36.

asked the Secretary of State for War what plans he now has for training exercises for the United Kingdom-based strategic reserve.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained in answer to a Question by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on 6th July, the commitments for our forces and aircraft elsewhere made it necessary to postpone the exercise planned for the 19th Brigade Group in Portugal. The battalion exercise in Canada to which I referred in my Estimates speech is going ahead as planned. The re-arrangement of other overseas exercises must be postponed until we know how long our commitments in the Persian Gulf will continue; but of course the present moves of part of the strategic reserve are in themselves excellent and realistic training.

But is not that the wrong reason for having done the right thing? Would it not be very much better if we agreed now that this whole proposal to have an exercise in Portugal was politically most undesirable?

If it was not politically undesirable when we last discussed it, I do not see what has made it so now.

Will the Secretary of State give a plain assurance that, while the present shocking situation continues in Angola, we shall have no military exercise of any kind in Portugal?

I cannot give any such undertaking. Let us be realistic about this. I think that we must postpone this exercise for practical reasons for the time being, but I shall wish, if it is possible, to carry out an exercise of this sort at a future time because I believe that it will help our troops. That is the criterion by which we judge the matter.

Kenya (Replacements)

32.

asked the Secretary of State for War what replacements are being sent to Kenya to replace the forces sent to Kuwait.

Headquarters 19 Infantry Brigade Group, the 1st battalion the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, and certain administrative units.

That is a wholly different question and it is not one which I think any hon. Member would expect me to answer, let alone the right hon. Gentleman, who has been a Secretary of State for War; but if there is any suggestion in the right hon. Gentleman's question that the cupboard is bare, I can assure him that this is far from the case.

King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery

33.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will carry out an investigation into the circumstances in which a horse from the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, was beaten on the instructions of an officer, on Thursday evening, 22nd June, 1961; and if he will make a statement.

I share the concern which is, I know, widely felt about these distressing allegations. I caused an investigation to be made, and I have now been able to study the report which has been made to me.

However, as the House will know, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is also holding an inquiry. I much welcome this, and have instructed that every assistance should be given the Society in it.

This inquiry has not yet been concluded, and my hon. Friend will therefore understand that I do not wish to influence its course by making any statement yet about the report I have received.

While accepting those remarks and thanking my right hon. Friend for them, may I also ask him to give an undertaking that he will issue notice to all units that employ horses that any brutality of any description against any horse owned by the War Office will not be tolerated, and that if any animal shows itself to be temperamentally unsuited to training, that animal will be disposed of and not ill-treated.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not press me to give such an undertaking.

I have explained to the House that I regard this matter as sub judice and that is the only reason why, at this stage, I am not publishing the report that was made to me. Perhaps sub judice is too strong an expression. I know that the House wants to have all the facts about this case. As an independent inquiry is being held by an organisation which, I am sure, is held in high esteem by all hon. Members, I do not propose to make public the report that was made to me. But I shall certainly wish to take an opportunity of expressing publicly the soldier's side of this distressing affair. So far we have heard only the accusations, but I am sure that even those who are most shocked will realise that there are two sides to this case.

The request I was making has nothing to do with the present case but is designed to ensure that there is no possibility of any such happening in the future. It has no relation whatever to the case which my right hon. Friend has said is sub judice.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's view and I will look into the matter, but I am not persuaded that there is any need for such an instruction.

Kuwait

34.

asked the Secretary of State for War what troops are now committed in Kuwait.

There are at this moment in Kuwait two Royal Marine Commandos and three battalions of infantry with tanks, armoured cars and guns in support. There are also, of course, detachments from all the administrative services.

Can the Secretary of State say how the fulfilment of this commitment has affected the deployment of our troops in Aden, Kenya, Cyprus and at home?

That is a much wider question which I hope, particularly as the hon. Gentleman is talking about troops in general, he will put down to the Minister of Defence.

My right hon. Friend says that there are guns in Kuwait. Would he say if there are any anti-tank guns there?

I would not like to be drawn into the individual details of all the weapons. As I am sure my hon. Friend will understand, there is a point beyond which one cannot go in giving individual information. This is a balanced force which has with it the arms and equipment which are necessary for the operations it was thought it might have to undertake.

Was any part of the 19th Brigade Group, which was intended to undertake the exercises in Portugal, sent to Kuwait? If none of them are there, where are they?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not fully understand an Answer that I gave earlier. If he will look at it he will see that part of the 19th Brigade Group is now in Kenya and has taken the place of troops who were moved from Kenya to Kuwait. Part of the 19th Brigade Group is still in this country.

Will the Secretary of State amplify statements which have been made today that certain of these units are now being withdrawn?

I cannot amplify them, except to say that some units are being withdrawn and some will continue to be withdrawn as the commander-in-chief feels that the situation warrants. As these units are withdrawn we propose to make announcements of the names of the units.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us believe that the essential thing in the deployment of our forces is that we should have balanced formations wherever they happen to be. His news that only part of the 19th Brigade Group is now in Kenya is somewhat disturbing, if it is to be taken to mean that that formation has been split up with some component parts being employed independently.

I did not say that it was being employed independently. When we moved certain troops from Kenya to Kuwait it was felt right that we should increase the number of troops which were held as a local theatre reserve in Kenya. This operation started to the extent that I have reported to the House, but, in view of the fact that things are more stable in Kuwait and it is even intended to withdraw some of the troops there, the rest of the movement operation of the 19th Brigade Group has for the time being stopped and, in due course, the one bit will join the other.

35.

asked the Secretary of State for War what arrangements have been made to relieve troops in Kuwait.

Is the Secretary of State aware that I am not asking about the withdrawal of troops, but the relief of them on a rotational basis, as mentioned by the Minister of Defence yesterday? In view of the extremely difficult conditions under which our troops are operating in Kuwait, what is the maximum amount of time it is proposed to leave any individual there in an exposed position before relief?

It is too early yet for the position to be precise, because during a period when there may still have to be some active operation the removal or rotation of troops must be on an ad hoc basis. As and when things settle down, we will be able to evolve plans, which are now being thought out, to do things on a proper basis. When things settle down it will be our intention not to leave these soldiers in Kuwait for more than a few months at a time.

While welcoming that statement, will my right hon. Friend also assure us that British forces will not be relieved or ousted by the United Nations?

That is a much wider question with which the Minister of Defence dealt yesterday.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what he means when he says "when we settle down in Kuwait"? Is it not true that we are there because of a specific request by the Ruler of Kuwait, one man, and that whether we leave or not depends upon the veto of this gentleman?

I do not think that I said "when we settle down". If I did, I meant to say "when things settle down". My right hon. Friend made it plain yesterday that we are there at the request of the Ruler, and when the Ruler asks us to leave and says that he is happy, we shall be only too glad to leave, as my right hon. Friend said. There may be a period in between, which I think is the period that the hon. Gentleman had in mind, and during that period, if it exists, we shall try to rotate the troops.