Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 656: debated on Tuesday 27 March 1962

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Tuesday, 27th March, 1962

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Wireless And Television

Local Broadcasting


asked the Postmaster-General when it is expected that local broadcasting will be introduced in Great Britain.

No decision will be taken one way or the other until after the Pilkington Committee has reported.

Is the Postmaster-General aware of the tremendous success of the experiments in local broadcasting carried out in Durham a few weeks ago, and does he appreciate that Durham would welcome such a facility? If this kind of local broadcasting is to take place, will the right hon. Gentleman give it top priority?

I have heard of those reports, but it is really premature to say anything definite on them yet.


asked the Postmaster-General whether he will make a statement regarding the reports he has received from the British Broadcasting Corporation regarding the Coropration's experiments in local broadcasting.

I have not received any reports from the B.B.C. about its experiments in local broadcasting.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I was rather afraid of this? Does he, by any chance, read the newspapers? If he does, has he noticed that the B.B.C. has carried out experiments? If he has kept with me in this intellectual process so far, may I ask why he has not troubled to inform himself about this? Can it be that he is in the hands of some commercial vested interest?

I read the newspapers, and I also read the Order Paper. Although I can do all sorts of things, I cannot make a statement on reports that I have never had.

Television Programmes (Hanging Scenes)


asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that during the past eighteen months three boys have been found dead from hanging after watching television programmes about crime, including hanging scenes; and if he will exercise his powers under Section 15 (4) of the Licence and Agreement of the British Broadcasting Corporation and under Section 9 (2) of the Television Act, 1954, to ensure that programmes which include hanging scenes shall not be broadcase in future.

I am aware of the three unfortunate cases which occurred in 1960 and 1961. Since that time the broadcasting authorities have been even more vigilant in matters of this kind, and I do not consider I should be justified in taking the action the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Is not the Postmaster-General aware that a fourth case occurred very recently—since I put down this Question—of a boy found dead from hanging after watching hanging scenes on television? Does he not think that he should use his powers of direction to prevent similiar human tragedies from occurring?

I am not aware of the fourth case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I shall certainly seek to trace it. I should be very happy to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman.

Is not the Postmaster-General aware that the I.T.A. is obliged to set up three television advisory committees, the first of which deals with the content of advertisements. According to the OFFICIAL REPORT, what the right hon. Gentleman said last Tuesday shows that he is not aware of that one. The second is a committee to advise on religious content, and the third advises on the welfare of young children. Would not that latter committee be the appropriate one for the right hon. Gentleman to ask to keep a continuing interest in this particular aspect of broadcasting?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong; I made it quite clear last week that there is no advisory committee on programme content. Having said that, I deplore, of course, as much as does any other hon. Member, these tragedies when they occur if it can be shown that there has been a demonstrable link with a television programme. But I am really satisfied that the two bodies—the B.B.C. and the I.T.A.—have this kind of thing very much in mind.

Experimental Stereophonic Programmes


asked the Postmaster-General how many experimental stereophonic programmes have been broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation; and over what period.

The B.B.C. tells me that it has broadcast seventy-nine experimental stereophonic programmes since 1958.

In view of the lengthy experiments which have taken place, I presume that it is the intention of the B.B.C. to give a service of stereophonic sound broadcasting. Why the delay? Why let the Americans pip us in this matter as they did with colour television?

This is a highly complicated technical matter. The system which is being used in America has one very great disadvantage, in that it seriously reduces the range of the transmitters using it. The B.B.C.'s experimental transmissions require the use of two separate sound channels. The view of my experts is that such a system cannot be regarded as a practicable one for the future. At the same time, we are getting useful experience from these experiments.

Is not there a danger of the best becoming the enemy of the good, or even of the very good, in these experiments?

As I said, this is a highly complicated business, but it has certain very great technical disadvantages as at present experimented with—and the American system reduces the range of the transmitters, which is also an important consideration.

County Antrim

22 and 23.

asked the Postmaster-General (1) what is the population of the areas of County Antrim which are beyond the range of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Independent Television Authority transmissions;

(2) what steps have been taken in the last two years to eliminate the small areas which cannot receive British Broadcasting Corporation television programmes.

I understand that about 9,500 people are beyond range of B.B.C. television, and about 11,000 beyond range of I.T.A. television in County Antrim. Since 1959 the B.B.C. has planned and put in hand twenty-seven satellite television stations to improve and extend its coverage, including one in Northern Ireland. A further stage of its satellite programme will be announced shortly.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that this area should be high on the list of priorities, if for no other reason than that it was probably the first place in the United Kingdom from which wireless transmissions of any sort were made? It seems wrong that it should now be left out.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, but, as he knows, the B.B.C.'s third stage satellite is still under consideration.

Would it not be worth while to preserve at all costs the one or two last refuges in the United Kingdom where it is not possible to receive a television programme?

Television Programmes (Scenes Of Brutality And Violence)


asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware of the frequent broadcasting on television of scenes depicting brutality and violence during the hours when children are viewing; and if he will use his powers under Section 15 (4) of the Licence and Agreements and Section 9 (2) of the Television Act, 1954, to require the Corporation and the Authority to refrain from broadcasting scenes of this nature during the earlier viewing hours.

Both B.B.C. and I.T.A. assure me that their general policy is one of vigilance in programme matter, and that they pay particular attention to programmes broadcast at times when children might be expected to be watching.

The B.B.C.'s code of practice in regard to violence draws attention to the dangers of depicting brutality in children's programmes. The I.T.A. says that it always tries to exercise particular care about children's programmes. I do not think I should be justified in using my powers as the hon. Member suggests.

Does not the Minister agree that, even as recently as a week last Sunday, the broadcasting of a most brutal and bestial murder in the "Oliver Twist" series at five o'clock—the peak hour—can have had nothing but a damaging influence, and was it not an exaggeration of Dickens? Will he use his powers to try to prevent this sort of thing?

I take this matter very seriously, and I have been in consultation with the British Broadcasting Corporation about it. It is only fair that I should repeat what it told me, namely, that a warning about this scene was given in a trailer during that Sunday afternoon and also at the start of the programme itself. The Corporation points out that violence is part of the story itself, and that if some children—and, indeed, some adults—found the episode brutal, the Corporation is sorry. I saw this scene, and I thought that it was brutal and quite inexcusable.

I am rather glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has taken exception to some of the things which have been televised, especially the last one to which he referred, but despite all that alleged vigilance on the part of the Corporation and the I.T.A., is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great deal of anxiety and concern in the public mind with regard to the effect of these brutal plays and actions on children? It does not matter how much we try to pretend that children are not watching, or should not be watching, these things. The plain fact is that they are doing so and it is having a deleterious effect on them, as every school teacher and every public-minded person knows. The Postmaster-General cannot evade his personal responsibility in regard to the standard of these things in the B.B.C. and in the I.T.A.

I think that, generally speaking, both broadcasting authorities behave well in matters of this sort. There are, of course, exceptional cases, and this happens to be one. Quite frankly, the difficulty is that if anyone in my position starts to ban certain types of programme on either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A., starting with brutality, or hangings, or something of that sort, the next step will be a demand for the banning of other programmes on a great variety of grounds, and the content of television programmes would disappear in no time.

Who really advises on the time at which childen go to bed? One is sick and tired of hearing that programmes are all right because they come on late and children do not see them. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are in consultation with the Home Office on this matter, and is there not a relationship between juvenile crime and allowing children to see programmes before their minds are thoroughly stabilised?

In regard to the first part of that question, I think that it is generally assumed by the broadcasting authorities that most children go to bed at nine o'clock.

I cannot say whether that is true or not. I can speak only for my own children. But until nine o'clock the two broadcasting authorities certainly try to keep out disagreeable features such as this from their programmes—not only children's programmes, but all programmes. With regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, this is one of the matters which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been discussing with the Chairmen of the I.T.A. and the B.B.C

But is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that both these authorities operate under a Charter given by this House? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman, as a Member of this House, and as the person responsible to this House for these two authorities, take the feeling of this House? I feel sure that if he does he will find that there is great apprehension not only in regard to children, but adults, too, because of some of these most obnoxious programmes that are put on by both authorities.

I have no doubt that on both sides of the House there is a great deal of feeling on matters of this sort, and I hope that when the Pilkington Committee reports, as it will do shortly after Easter, it will have something to say, and in turn that the Government will take what it has to say with all seriousness.

In that context is my right hon. Friend aware of the programe "Z Cars" which puts the police in an extremely bad light? It brutalises the police and has a bad effect on children.

I am afraid that I am not in a position to answer that because I have never seen "Z Cars"

The right hon. Gentleman said that both authorities took into account the needs of children up to the hour of nine o'clock. They set up a joint committee which recommended that programmes up to nine o'clock should not be unsuitable for children, and both authorities firmly rejected the recommendations of this Committee. How does the right hon. Gentleman account for that?

I realise that that recommendation was rejected, but I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the two broadcasting authorities proceed on the assumption that most children may be watching television until about nine o'clock.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that, quite apart from the effect on children, what is involved here is a deliberate debasement of the public taste, and that this is a question of public policy for which he is responsible? Can the right hon. Gentleman conceive of any circumstance whatever in which it is necessary to depict on the screen every incident and every detail of a brutal assault ending in murder, and perhaps depicting an actual hanging? What is it for, except to pander to the most morbid sensationalism and to derive profit from it in that way?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that that is a very fair question. I have already made my personal view clear on this point.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that if this matter is taken too far along the line of the questions this afternoon we shall end in a state where no Shakespearean play can be shown at all? Would not he agree that one of the most successful series ever put over by the B.B.C. is "An Age of Kings" which had more murders in it last Sunday than I have ever seen before?

I am sure that the answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question is "Yes." One of the difficulties is that a very high proportion of our English classical literature includes incidents of great brutality.

Post Office

Recorded Delivery Service


asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware of the unsatisfactory nature of the recorded delivery postal service in relation to the work of the Sheriff at Airdrie, details of which have been forwarded to him by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie; and what action he is taking in the matter.

The information which the hon. Member was good enough to send my right hon. Friend has been taken into account in considering whether to amend Statutes so as to permit the use of recorded delivery as an alternative to the registered post for sending documents. The view of the Departments responsible for the Statutes is that the new service would be an acceptable alternative, and effect is given to this in the Recorded Delivery Service Bill, which was considered in Committee on 28th February and is due to be reported on 6th April.

May I take it from that reply that some sort of surety will be provided to guarantee delivery of such important documents as summonses, citation, etc.?

We have no reason to believe that the recorded delivery postal service will be any less secure for the service of documents than is the registered post.

Morpeth (General Post Office)


asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware of the limitations under which staff work, and the general public are served, in the General Post Office in Morpeth in the County of Northumberland; what action is being taken to deal with the matter; and whether he will make a statement.

Some improvements, including the introduction of "all-purpose" working, were made last year. My right hon. Friend cannot do more until the new automatic telephone exchange is ready next spring. The telephone exchange will then be removed from the present building, and this will enable the head post office to be replaced by a new building, on site.

I appreciate what was done last year, but is the hon. Lady aware that there is an urgent need for an immediate improvement in the conditions in which the members of the staff are working? What are the possibilities of getting a date-line fixed for a new post office at Morpeth, which is urgently needed?

We recognise the urgency, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we hope to deal with it very soon—some time this year.

Giro System


asked the Postmaster-General, in view of the fact that the matter has been under consideration by his Department for over three years, if he has yet reached a decision on the introduction of a Giro system in the Post Office.

The Government are not at present convinced of the long-term need for a Post Office Giro system. We shall, however, continue to examine the scope for such a scheme in the light of public needs.

First, what difficulties are the Government experiencing in this matter? This system seems to be working satisfactorily in other countries. What are the right hon. Gentleman's disabilities? Secondly, is he aware that many of us are getting a little anxious lest the delay in reaching a decision is connected with the activities of banks and trustee savings banks, which are very keen that a system of this sort should be introduced?

I am, of course, well aware of the experience of the Giro system on the Continent. Not all the systems are successful by any means. At least two or three of them involve the taxpayers and governments concerned in quite substantial losses. I should like to make it clear that my reply to the hon. Gentleman does not rule out the possibility of a Giro system in this country. However, many developments are taking place over a very wide field, and these have to be considered very carefully.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to the second point which I raised, which is very important? Is the delay due to the influence of the banking interests on the Postmaster-General?

No, Sir. The delay is due to the enormous complications in the consideration of the whole problem.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is not himself but the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is obstructing progress in this matter?

Progress is not being obstructed by any member of Her Majesty's Government. It is simply that the question is so wide and complicated that it takes a long time to resolve.

Stamps (Design)


asked the Postmaster-General what policy governs his choice of the designs of stamps for ordinary use in the United Kingdom.

The basic policy has always been to maintain the Monarch's head as a dominant feature of all our postage stamps. Subject to this, in the choice of individual designs, we are assisted by advice of people of note in the artistic and cultural world.

Would it not be better policy to recognise the art, culture, science and versatility of Britain by depicting on our stamps likenesses of some of our great scientists and poets, like Robert Burns, Bernard Shaw and others? This is done in other countries with profit as well as glory accruing to those countries?

Has my hon. Friend noted that the fact that other countries have many more pictorial issues than we do is a matter of economic advantage to them, since the stamp business is very big internationally? Would it not be wise for the Post Office to reconsider its earlier decision not to issue more pictorial stamps?

It is not altogether a tremendous economic advantage to have too many issues. This devalues the value of the issue. We feel that we have just about the right balance.

Does not the hon. Lady think that a pictorial stamp showing Robert Burns as an Army volunteer, complete with musket, would stimulate recruiting for the Army in Scotland and bring satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)?

Sub-Post Offices, Shropshire


asked the Posmaster-General how many sub-post offices have been closed in Shropshire in the last five years; how many new sub-post offices have been opened; and if he will give an estimate of the profit or loss which has resulted to the Post Office therefrom.

Six, including one at a former R.A.F. station, have been closed and four new ones opened. We expect to open another new one in Bridgnorth early next month. Based on the average financial effect of opening and closing offices, we estimate that these changes will reduce our expenditure by about £100 a year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will she bear in mind that the terms of remuneration are not always such as to attract people to take on sub-post offices? Will she consider favourably people who are prepared to take on sub-post offices? If people are not prepared to do that, will she consider other possibilities, such as travelling post offices?

The difficulty about travelling post offices is that not only are they very expensive but the people who would use them would be considerably inconvenienced in waiting for the post offices to arrive and in having to use them in all weathers.

Savings Certificate Division (Location)


asked the Postmaster-General, in view of the fact that the population of Durham and the surrounding districts is more than 120,000, if he will consider locating his proposed Savings Certificate Division in that area.

I thank the hon. Lady for that reply. Will she bear in mind that last week her hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti) said that we had a population of only 20,000 in Durham and were not as worthy of this service as his constituency? In fact, we have more than 200,000 people to cater for, not 20,000.

I am grateful for the information which the hon. Gentleman has given us. We are considering it very carefully.

Special Stamps (National Productivity Year)


asked the Postmaster-General what plans he has for issuing special stamps to mark the launching of the National Productivity Year.

Yes, Sir: my right hon. Friend proposes to issue special stamps in denominations of 2½d., 3d., and 1s. 3d. to mark the occasion. They will be on sale in November.

I welcome this decision, but can we have some more information about the design of these stamps, and the number that will be issued?

I am afraid that at this point I cannot give any information about the design, but we hope that we shall have something that will commend itself to all hon. Members, and to the public.

Is the hon. Lady aware that if she wants an increase in national productivity in Scotland she must provide some inspiration, and that the greatest inspiration she can provide for Scotland will be to issue a stamp of Robert Burns?

Will the hon. Lady bear in mind that it is high time that some Welsh emblem was shown on a postage stamp? Will she also bear in mind that the Welsh people will be very hurt if, once again, Scotland is recognised and not Wales? We expect both to be recognised.

I can assure hon. Members that all these considerations will be borne in mind.

Railways (Handling Of Mails)


asked the Postmaster-General what progress has been made in the last year in the methods of loading and unloading postal parcels and mail carried on main line passenger train services.

The loading and unloading of mails has been speeded up in a number of instances. As regards new methods of loading and unloading, a study group has reported during the year on the general question of handling of mails, and its recommendations are under investigation. A copy of the study group's report is available in the Library of the House.

Will the Minister bear in mind Chat the railways are spending millions of pounds to modernise and speed-up rail traffic, while mail is still being loaded by precisely the same method as was used to load stage coaches? In view of the delay that this causes to passengers, surely the Post Office should get a move on in this matter?

It was for this reason that we had a special investigation into the handling of mails, and why we are giving special attention to it at the present time.

Telephone Service

Automatic Dialling System, West Sussex


asked the Postmaster-General what steps he is taking to simplify the complicated automatic dialling system which has recently been installed in West Sussex.

I think my hon. Friend is referring to the recent introduction of six-digit codes for dialling calls to some exchanges in West Sussex. I am afraid that this is unavoidable with the present equipment. As subscriber trunk dialling is introduced, however, the codes will gradually be replaced by codes consisting of three letters and three figures, and these will be easier to use.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that reply will give a good deal of satisfaction to people in West Sussex? This six-figure code really does not work, and it is almost a stone-cold certainty that after dialling three of the figures one gets a horrible noise in one's ear. Is my right hon. Friend aware that for four weeks running I have reported the matter to the Horsham exchange, but that the people there do not seem to be able to put it right?

I agree that the present system is by no means perfect, but I think that for the present most subscribers would rather have the facility of direct dialling than have to go through the operator.



asked the Postmaster-General how many telephone subscribers there were in Morpeth at the latest convenient date; and how many applicants were still waiting.

I am glad to say that whereas a year ago there were forty-four applicants on the waiting list, there is now only one. There are now 1,111 subscribers compared with 981 a year ago.



asked the Postmaster-General how many applications for telephones are now outstanding; and what the corresponding figure was last year.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at this rate it will take a very long time before people on the waiting list are dealt with? Since about 1 million people are already sharing lines, cannot the. Postmaster-General do something to expedite the provision of telephones, especially now that he is making more money out of the subscriber trunk dialling system?

I do not think we are doing too badly. Last year we installed a record number of telephones—about 460,000. The number on the waiting list at present represents less than 1 per cent. of the 5 million people who have telephones.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye tomorrow, I hope to try to prove that he should have been able to do a bit better than he has done with regard to the waiting list?

We are doing twice as well as the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards).

Telephone Apparatus And Exchange Equipment (Tenders)


asked the Postmaster-General what further tenders have been invited for telephone apparatus and exchange equipment since his announcement that orders to the value of £450,000 for telephone apparatus had been placed with firms outside the bulk supply agreement; and with what results.

Since the Answer I gave to the hon. Member on 21st November, 1961, tenders have been issued to a value of £456,500 for exchange equipment, and £700,000 for telephone apparatus. Of those on which adjudication has been completed, tenders to a value of £134,500 for exchange equipment and £83,000 for telephone apparatus have been declined on grounds of price. Contracts to a value of £8,500 have been placed for telephone apparatus. The remainder of the tenders to a value of nearly £1 million are under consideration.

This is a favourable trend. May I take it that the Postmaster-General is making an earnest attempt to broaden the field of supply and that, in accordance with the Third Report of the Public Accounts Committee, he may eventually terminate the ring system?

The Post Office is now, I think for the first time, taking serious advantage of the 10 per cent. reservation clauses. I hope that by so doing we shall infuse an element of competition into our arrangements which will be to the economic advantage of the Post Office and of the taxpayers.

Telephone Installations (Charges)


asked the Postmaster-General how many maximum charges of £10 for installing new telephones and how many lower charges have been made in the years 1958, 1959, 1960, and 1961.

Can my hon. Friend tell me how many charges under £5 are imposed for installing telephones? Or are money matters of no account to the Post Office?

One and three-quarter million lines have been connected since 1st January, 1958. The difficulty is that it would take an enormous amount of money and labour to analyse these figures in the way that my hon. Friend would like. We have to have an estimation of the work which is done because we feel that in that way we can ensure the most economical working of all our manpower.

New Kiosks


asked the Postmaster-General how many new telephone kiosks will be provided during 1962 in England, Scotland and Wales, respectively.

The current two-year programme for rural kiosks allows for 270 to be provided in England, 33 in Scotland and 40 in Wales. No similar programme is compiled in advance for kiosks in urban areas, but during 1962 I expect about 900 to be erected in England. 100 in Scotland and 50 in Wales.


asked the Postmaster-General if he will publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list giving particulars of the new telephone kiosks to be erected in each of the Welsh counties during 1962.

I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT the numbers of kiosks to be erected in Welsh counties under the current two-year programme drawn up in collaboration with the Rural District Councils' Association for kiosks in rural areas. In addition, I expect about ninety kiosks to be erected in urban districts in Wales and the Border counties in 1962.

Will the programme for these two years represent a marked change from that of the previous two years?

I cannot answer that question with precision without notice, but I think that it represents a slight improvement.

In view of the isolation of the people in rural Wales now that the railways are to be closed down and the bus services are closing down, does the Minister realise the added importance of telephone kiosks, in enabling the people to keep in touch with their doctors, and so on?

The Post Office is always very much alive to its responsibilities in rural and scattered areas.

Following is the list:


Technical Co-Operation

British Books (Export To Israel)


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation if he will make a statement on the future of the currency arrangements to encourage the sale of British books in Israel.


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation whether he will make a statement on the present position with regard to the provisions available for the sale of publications to Israel.

The Israel Government liberalised imports of books in April last year. Our special books Agreement with them was therefore no longer needed, and was suspended at Israel's request. Increasing quantities of British books have since been imported into Israel under normal trade arrangements.

Low-Priced Books, Africa


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation what arrangements he is making for the distribution of low-priced textbooks and the low-priced paperbacks under the official scheme in the countries of Africa.

The scheme has not yet been applied in Africa. We have concentrated the available resources in Asia where the need has been greatest.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread disappointment, and indeed surprise, that this scheme is not to apply to Africa where there is an increasing flood of cheap Communist literature? Will the right hon. Gentleman look at this again and try to persuade publishers in this country to take a longer view of what are their own real interests?

I have not closed my mind to this. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw the exhibition of books for tropical areas last week at London University. There was a wide range of books made on commercial lines available to Africa which go a long way to fill this gap.

Former Overseas Civil Servants (Pensions)


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation what is the average pension paid through the Crown Agents to the widows of pensioners of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service and former members of the Colonial Service who retired before any post-war salary increases were granted by the employing Governments.

The average pension granted before the first post-war salary increases paid through the Crown Agents to widows of Colonial Service officers who served under the Governments of dependent territories is £249. This figure represents basic pension only and does not take account of pensions increases awarded by the various Governments concerned. I regret that I am not in a position to supply an average figure in respect of widows' pensions paid by independent Commonwealth and foreign countries.

As the widow's pension stems from an unfunded compulsory payment by the late husband, does not my right hon. Friend think that this amount is fairly small, and does not he agree that within the average there are figures as low as £72 for the High Commission Territories, and as much as £400 in respect of service under more than one Government? Does not my right hon. Friend think it possible to balance out this payment in some way?

I accept much of what my hon. Friend has said. The figure I have given is the basic figure without the increase given in many cases. It still remains a fact that in some cases Governments have not given increases that the pensioners deserve.


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation what is the average pension paid through the Crown Agents to pensioners of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service and former members of the Colonial Service who retired before any post-war salary increases were granted by the employing Governments.

The average basic pension paid through the Crown Agents to overseas service pensioners of dependent territories who retired before the first post-war salaries revision is £393. I regret that I am not in a position to give an average figure in respect of pensions paid by independent Commonwealth and foreign countries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that within this figure the average for Brunei is as low as £73 whereas in North Borneo next door it is as much as £474? Is not this rather odd? Further, will he bear in mind, when any money is likely to be lent or given to countries such as Ghana or Ceylon, that they have made no effort at all to look after their ex-servants?

I agree that the average figure is most misleading, but it was my hon. Friend who chose to put the Question in this form. The latter part of his supplementary question raises wider implications, but I have noted his Motion on the Order Paper.

Is it not time that the Government looked afresh at the whole question of pensions paid to Overseas Civil Service pensioners in this country? Are not many of these pensions grossly inadequate now, and does not the right hon. Gentleman, as the Minister responsible for technical assistance, feel that he is embarrassed by the constant friction caused on these questions with the new Commonwealth countries?

I accept that there is a problem here, but, of course, there are advantages and disadvantages in the present system which has been an established part of pensions policy under many Governments for many years. It is the policy that overseas Governments who pay the salaries pay the pensions of those who retire.

How many times has my right hon. Friend been to the Chancellor of the Exchequer demanding that something be done for these people? How often must democracy make itself vocal on the matter before the Executive can act?

I can easily answer that. I have only just taken over responsibility for this matter, and the answer is, therefore, "None".


YearAden (a)B. Guiana (a)CyprusE.A.C.S.O. Kenya, Tanganyika Uganda, Zanzibar (a)GhanaHong Kong (a)Jamaica (a)

YearMalaya, Singapore (a)NigeriaN. Rhodesia (a)Nyasaland (a)Sierra LeoneSomaliaCeylon (b)


The tables show increases on a basic pension of £100 at 1st January, 1953.
For countries marked (a), the percentage increases for some larger pensions are smaller.
(b) The percentage increase varies according to the size of pension and status of the pensioner.

will give the percentage increases in pensions under the United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Acts for overseas pensions, country by country and year by year, from 1953.

The pensions of retired members of the overseas services are not increasable under the United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Acts.

Will my right hon. Friend publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT all the figures in the table which he sent to me? Further, after he has had a chance of studying them, when will he go to the Treasury?

I can arrange for those figures to be published. On the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I want to give further consideration to this whole problem.

Following are the figures:

Centre For Educational Television Overseas


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation what help Her Majesty's Government is giving to the Centre for Educational Television Overseas; and what progress is being made by the Centre.

Her Majesty's Government are contributing £100,000 over five years.

The Centre, which was established only last December, is not a Government organisation and has not yet published a report. I understand that it has been busy recruiting staff and installing equipment, making closed circuit experiments and reviewing existing film material. It is hoped that production of new programmes will begin next month.

This is an entirely admirable project which demands the fullest support of the Government. Can the Minister say what help is being given by way of the provision of television sets for schools overseas and whether any initiative has been made to produce a special service television set for this purpose?

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks about the Centre, in which the Government are a most enthusiastic partner. I am a little doubtful whether the provision of receivers comes within the scope of the Centre, but I have noted the hon. Gentleman's question.

Television Films (Teaching Of English)


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation what progress has now been made in producing television films for teaching English overseas.

The British Council's experimental work has gone far enough to show that the main need is now financial. The 1962–63 Estimates do not make the substantial provision which might be involved, but experimental work is continuing, and I propose to consult further with the interested bodies.

A great deal of time has been spent in producing far too few films of very inferior quality. Will the right hon. Gentleman make quite sure that there are not too many authorities in this work and knock together the heads of those concerned to get some progress?

It is true that some of the material produced has been of unsatisfactory quality. I have said that I propose to consult further with the interested bodies and I propose to bring them together to see whether we can make more progress in what I regard as an important field.

United Nations Agencies


asked the Secretary for Technical Co-operation what arrangements exist for consultation between his Department and other Departments about the United Kingdom's policy towards United Nations agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation; and to what extent his department is responsible for policy decisions relating to these agencies.

My Department keeps in close touch with other Departments about the technical assistance activities and programmes of the United Nations and the Specialised Agencies. Policy decisions are arrived at through the normal method of inter-departmental consultation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when I raised the question of the world food programme recently it was dealt with at Question Time by the Minister of Agriculture, and when I raised it on the Adjournment it was put down first as a Treasury subject and then transferred to the Foreign Office? Does not all this transferring of subjects mean that the right hon. Gentle man's responsibility in these matters is not properly carried out and that the dead hand of the Treasury is much too powerful?

No, I do not think so. I read the hon. Gentleman's speech about this subject on the Adjournment Motion. There is very close consultation between the Departments concerned, and I have no reason to believe that the correct decisions are not reached.

Government Information Services


asked the Prime Minister what progress has been made in the field of Government information services since the appointment of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury as assistant to the Minister of Housing and Local Government in respect of his responsibilities for these services.

The work of co-ordinating the official information services has been assisted by the new arrangements.

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Does he still consider it wise to have taken a Minister from an important Department during an economic crisis in order to bolster up Government affairs? Further, in view of the point which we made about Colin Hurry being consulted when we put a previous Question to the Prime Minister, does the fact that the Government are now considering the use of a market research firm for an inquiry into the Orpington by-election indicate that this was the case?

I thought that we should get to Orpington, though we were an awful long time doing so. The hon. Gentleman's distinction as a party propagandist has led him to misunderstand the nature and purpose of official information services.

Shipping (Flag Discrimination)


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the effect on the United Kingdom's trade, he will draw President Kennedy's attention to the effect on the Anglo-American alliance of the action of the United States Government in persisting in the policy of flag discrimination which is operating to the increasing disadvantage of British shipping.

The United States Government have already been made aware of our view of the damaging effect of discrimination wherever it occurs.

How is it possible to promote effective Anglo-American cooperation when the United States Government continue this most objectionable practice? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the matter has become worsened because of the recent decision of the United States Government to demand disclosure of shipping documents, and is not the position of British shipping becoming steadily worse? If the right hon. Gentleman's efforts so far have failed—I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman; I blame President Kennedy—will he consider sending someone at his own expense—me, for example—to talk to President Kennedy on this subject?

There are two separate questions here. There is the question of discrimination, where, of course, the United States practice and example are, though regrettable, not, alas, the only or even the worst example of discrimination by other countries. There is the quite separate question of the unilateral regulation of international shipping to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and against that we are now considering what steps we should take.

But does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the point I am making? How can we have effective co-operation and partnership in N.A.T.O. and elsewhere when the action of the United States Government is destroying, or almost destroying, our British shipping?

Happily, it has not done that yet. This discrimination is, I am afraid, done not only by the United States but by a great number of other countries.

Does the Prime Minister realise that his Answer to my right hon. Friend was one-sided? It is not enough to make British views known to the United States Government. We want to know what is the reaction of the United States Government to the British views, since great damage is being done to British shipping and British trading by what is happening at present.

I understand that, of course, but right hon. and hon. Members will understand that we have to study very carefully before we fall into what was the temptation of taking similar action ourselves because, on the whole, we gain by the freest possible arrangements.

European Economic Community


asked the Prime Minister what changes in the arrangements for Ministerial supervision of the conduct of the Common Market negotiations will result from the new duties of the Secretary of State for the Home Department in respect of Central Africa.

Do not the continued duties of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in this field include co-ordinating an alternative Commonwealth plan so that we shall be better equipped for these negotiations and better placed in the event of their ultimate failure?

Of course, we have to consider, and we are all the time considering, what our policy should be should we not be able to conclude a successful negotiation. As regards the actual machinery of negotiation, perhaps I may remind my right hon. and learned Friend that the Lord Privy Seal is the Minister in charge, there is an official team headed by Sir Pierson Dixon, the British Ambassador in Paris, there is a Departmental corresponding committee here, and there is the Ministerial committee of which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is chairman.

Is the Prime Minister still so fully appreciative of the great benefits to ourselves and to Europe of bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion that he will continue relentlessly to find ways and means of doing so?

Yes, but I think that unilateralism is a mistake. There are great benefits, so long as they are not accompanied by injury to either the Commonwealth or to British agriculture in a way which would be unacceptable.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his last reply is the best I have heard him make to date?

Chief Secretary To The Treasury (Speech)


asked the Prime Minister if the speech in London of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the conference to promote wider share ownership, on 20th March, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury's remarks at the opening of this conference were certainly in accordance with Government policy.

Can the Prime Minister explain why this exposition of Government policy inspired such a vicious and indignant attack on the Government by the Chairman of the Stock Exchange and the assembled bankers?

I have known expositions of Government policy which have not always been acceptable in every quarter. I think that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made a very good reply.

If the Government are interested in promoting wider share ownership, why are they constantly selling off the public snares in British industry to private interests?

That seems to be exactly one of the methods by which public ownership becomes wider.

Leasehold Law, Wales


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of public interest throughout Wales in a revision of the leasehold laws he will state the terms of his reply to the letter he has received from the Methodist Church in South Wales on the subject of leasehold reform.

The letter to which the hon. Member refers was acknowledged on my behalf. I have noted the views expressed in it and passed them on to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government who has the matter under consideration.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the views expressed in this letter are shared by the people of all the Churches and all people in public life in Wales, including the leaders of the Conservative Party, as well as those on this side of the House? Will he take a personal interest in this matter, since the leaseholders in Wales can only look to the House for protection, and time is passing and they are suffering all the time?

Of course, I will take a personal interest, all the more because it was the Conservative Government that passed the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954. My right hon. Friend tells me that he is asking the professional bodies concerned with land and property to let him have information about the practice of ground landlords, especially in South Wales, as regards the renewal of long leases or the sale of the freehold. I will certainly keep in touch with my right hon. Friend about this.

Has the Prime Minister nothing further to tell us on this? Cannot he give us some indication of what Government policy is?

Government policy was enacted in the 1954 Act. My right hon. Friend is seeking advice from the professional bodies on how the Act is working.

Is there not an overwhelming case for giving leaseholders the right to purchase the freehold under appropriate conditions?

I thought the right hon. Gentleman said to stay on. The Act gave them the right to remain as statutory tenants when their leases expired. That is a different thing from the right to purchase. I agree. We are now looking into the matter. I think it is only reasonable, as I have been asked this Question, that I should take a personal interest, but I should like the opportunity of consulting my right hon. Friend on the details.

Central Africa


asked the Prime Minister if he will take the necessary steps towards the appointment of a junior Minister specially charged with assisting the Secretary of State for the Home. Department in the Department of Central Africa.

I would refer my right hon. Friend to what I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland. South (Mr. P. Williams) during Questions last Thursday.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it is very important that Ministers dealing with the problem of Central Africa should visit Central Africa and see the problems on the spot? Before the recent change there were five Ministers qualified to make such journeys. It would be helpful if more than the Home Secretary were able to do this at times.

We are watching this, but the machinery has just been set up and we shall watch it carefully, and if it is necessary a junior Minister will be appointed.

Disarmament Conference Geneva


asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the future course of the disarmament negotiations in Geneva in view of his expressed concern with the strategy of the negotiations.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a further statement regarding his plans for meeting Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Kennedy at Geneva.

As for the future course of the disarmament negotiations, I stand by the policy announced in the joint message which President Kennedy and I sent to Mr. Khrushchev on 7th February. The conference has agreed to procedure and a programme of work based on the Russian and American plans.

As for a meeting between President Kennedy, Mr. Khrushchev and myself, I cannot at present add to what I told the House on 13th March—that I am ready to go to Geneva at any stage when it appears that such action can be of positive value.

The Prime Minister in his letter to Mr. Khrushchev dated 13th February proposed that the progress of the conference should be the subject of more frequent communications between himself, President Kennedy and Mr. Khrushchev. May I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the deadlock on a nuclear test ban. he is in communication with Mr. Khrushchev, or is he contemplating making any communication to Mr. Khrushchev on the progress of the conference?

The Foreign Secretary has been back twice to see me, last Saturday and Sunday. I would ask to be excused from making any further statement today, because I do not regard the disarmament negotiations, or even the nuclear test ban, as having yet reached what could be called complete deadlock. We are in very close touch about this and I would rather leave it as it is for today.

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a serious danger that the idea that an unprepared Summit is the panacea for all ills could easily lead to a much more serious situation? In these circumstances, has he given any consideration to the idea of continuing these negotiations at official level, if they break down now, and perhaps resuming them at the Foreign Ministers' Conference at a later date?

All these questions have to be most carefully considered, the object being not just to have a conference, but to produce some results.

Has my right hon. Friend anything favourable or cheering to report about the Russian attitude towards the Berlin air corridor?

The actual situation in the corridor is now easier. On the whole problem, discussions are going on and I should not like to say anything at the moment about it

The Prime Minister has asked us not to press him on the matter at the moment. We will take note of that. However, can he give us some idea when he is likely to be in a position to give us rather fuller information on the prospect of a Summit Conference?

I do not know about the prospect of a Summit Conference, but I should certainly hope to make a statement shortly about the general state of the negotiations.

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind the importance, before there is a real breakdown in the nuclear test negotiations, of trying to prevent that by a Summit Conference? Is he aware that many of us regard this as of great importance before the implementation of President Kennedy's decision to conduct nuclear tests?

All these matters are very much in our minds, and, as the right hon, Gentleman knows, cause us deep and constant anxiety. We are making a great effort to reach a good conclusion. Again I will take note of these suggestions, which I am sure are meant to be helpful.

First, has the Prime Minister anything to say about a possible agreement concerning outer space between the Americans and the Russians? Secondly, will he confirm that his earlier statement means that there is still a chance that the American series of tests will be postponed, if not cancelled?

I should like notice of the technicalities, if I am to make a statement about outer space. With regard to to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that the negotiations so far have broken or been held up on the single point of the Russians' unwillingness to accept verification in any form or under any conditions. I had hoped that there might have been certain movements which the West could have made which would have overcome that, but that has not happened so far. However, I have not abandoned hope and I should like to leave it there for the moment.

President Of The Board Of Trade (Speech)


asked the Prime Minister whether the speech delivered by the President of the Board of Trade in London on 22nd March at the meeting of the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers, on the subject of the Government's intention to deal with the problem of tax-free speculative gains, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made no new statement of Government policy. He was referring to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House on 25th July last year.

Did not the President of the Board of Trade reply to the Chairman of the London Stock Exchange and indicate that the Government were determined to go ahead with taxing tax-free speculative gains? Can the Prime Minister assure us that the Government will be prepared to go ahead with that policy in spite of opposition from the Stock Exchange and the bankers?

No, Sir. I do not think that I can anticipate my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget.

British Transport Commission (Fare Increases)

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport whether he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission not to proceed with its proposal to increase fares on all forms of public transport for which it is responsible.

No, Sir. In view of the Commission's expected deficit of £146 million next year, I should not feel justified in intervening to prevent these fare increases which have been authorised by the Transport Tribunal. Without the increases announced yesterday, the railway deficit would be even greater; and I understand that London Transport would be working at a deficit.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, first, whether he was consulted about these proposed increases? If he was not, should he not have been, in view of the national repercussions of imposing such increases? Secondly, as the estimated revenue from these increases will make no substantial contribution towards meeting the railway deficits, should not the Commission's proposals be viewed from a wider national angle?

The Government are imposing a pay pause on the ground that it is required in the interests of national economy and the export trade. Is it, therefore, not the clear duty of the Government, whilst they are doing that, also to do whatever lies in their power to prevent a rise in the cost of living and increased hardship for the millions of people who are the victims of their pay pause?

The Commission informed me of the scope of the proposed increases under its existing powers and also of the application which it was making to the Transport Tribunal, but there is no question of the Government's having to approve the proposals. The Commission's charging powers are determined by the statutory procedures of the Transport Acts, 1947 and 1953, and the Commission has a statutory duty to break even.

As for the pay pause, we have to remember that, pause or no pause, railway workers have had an increase in wages recently. Nobody in the House or in the country grudges them that increase. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] But having granted the increase, the public, either as passengers or as taxpayers, must support it.

On the question of the national interest, British Railways, in 1961, lost £151 million, which is equivalent to 8d. in the £ Income Tax. On top of this, we now have this recent increase in wages and a reduction in hours. Therefore, I am bound to say that I do not consider it in the national interest that the taxpayer should pay the greater part of this bill.

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that a great many electors have been suggesting recently that Government expenditure should be reduced? Would he not further agree that the public must understand that if public expenditure is to be reduced it is no good our going on subsidising the railways for ever and ever and that the public must pay the proper cost of running the railways?

Since the last fare increase, the working expenses of the railways have increased by £27 million per annum, and wages and shorter hours account for £21 million, or 80 per cent. of that total. To the £27 million, fare increases will contribute £6·14 million. Unless the railways make economies, or obtain increased revenue from other sources, the taxpayer is bound to pay the balance.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House his reluctance to interfere with the statutory machinery which governs increases of fares, bearing in mind his enthusiasm for interfering with wage negotiating machinery in order to keep wages on a downward grade?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is still a 1d. fare in Middlesborough? Is it not time that there was a public inquiry into how the Government and the top executive of the Transport Commission are running affairs and that the workman should not always be blamed?

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that we should be likely to get more revenue if he could get the Transport Commission to reduce fares for long-distance travel and so fill the trains and not run them half-empty?

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is no prospect in the foreseeable future, and perhaps for ever and ever, amen, of the railways paying their way? As the railways are, I imagine, in the opinion of every hon. Member, indispensable, may I ask whether it not about time that the Government considered making them a social service and meeting the cost?

I think that the great need is to get the railways into the right shape suited for modern transport conditions and to take those traffics that they are best suited to take and not have the traffics which cause them a huge loss. The present Chairman of the Commission is carrying out some traffic studies, and at the end of the year we shall know what traffics are best suited to the railways.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he told me a fortnight ago that the loss this year would be £151 million and that he said today that the loss next year would be much heavier? How much heavier? Was Dr. Beeching's figure of £165 million yesterday, at Plymouth, a correct figure, and is that before the rail fares were increased or after?

The £151 million refers to the loss on the railways. The loss to the Transport Commission is £146 million, because the Commission made £5 million on ancillary trading. This is for last year. Next year is an estimate only, and it is extremely difficult even for an ordinary private or public limited company to assess accurately what its net profit or loss will be for the next year. The figure which I quoted to my hon. Friend was before these increases, but after allowance had been made for the shorter working week.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that there is great danger that by these increases the railways will be completely priced out of the market on many routes for passenger travel? Would he not agree that it is quite hopeless today to envisage a situation in which the railways would break even, after allowing for even the greatest contraction? Does he not think that the railways should be used according to the country's economic position and to help the country in the broadest possible sense?

For instance, to compete successfully in foreign markets would it not be a great asset if we could get goods to the ports as cheaply as possible and thereby possibly sell those goods more cheaply abroad? The right hon. Gentleman should face the fact that a cheap fares policy has never been tried in this country.

It has not helped industry that it has had to finance a loss of over £150 million on the railways, which is equal to 8d. in the £ Income Tax. If we make this service free or a social service it is obvious that the deficit will be even more. The best thing that we can do is to wait until the Chairman of the Commission has finished his studies. We shall then see what size and kind of railways system we really need.

Is it not a fact that during the last fifteen years or so British Railways have given the public worse service at increased cost, with gigantic losses? Is it not typical of a nationalised industry? Why does my right hon. Friend not do away with the beastly things and turn them into roads?

There are only certain railways that could be turned into roads usefully, and in suitable cases we are doing so. I would not like to turn all the railways into roads, especially the ones to Knutsford, because then I should be denied the privilege of the weekly letter from my hon. and gallant Friend about it.

Order. We cannot debate this matter without there being a Question before the House.

New Member Sworn

Joseph Harper, esquire, for Pontefract.


3.41 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law with regard to the pensions of public service pensioners, and retired officers and other ranks, and widows of the armed services.
In asking for leave to introduce my Bill, I trust that I may have the support of the House. There are already several Motions on the Order Paper dealing with various categories of pensioner, including those to which the Bill refers. The Motions have been signed by a large number of hon. Members, and this, I think, indicates the concern and interest taken by hon. Members on both sides in the welfare of these pensioners—an interest which I readily acknowledge.

In introducing a Private Member's Bill, one has to face many hazards. I am well aware that if I were to specify particular increases I should soon run into procedural difficulties, and it would be of no service to the pensioners whose cause I plead if I were to be overthrown by the first hurdle. Therefore, I should explain at the beginning that I am not proposing specific increases.

The main purpose of my Bill is to ensure that a review should be held every two years. This is in the nature of a pensions review Bill rather than a pensions increase Bill. The review, amongst other things, would provide Parliament with comparative figures showing how pensions granted in years gone by were lagging behind those of current pensioners.

I believe that once samples have been selected from various categories and have been collected from the past years, it would be comparatively simple to bring the information up to date at regular intervals. I suggest that it should be published every two years in a White Paper. I think that it would be of value to Parliament. I hope that it would be of value to the Government and I know that it would be of value to the country. It would bring to light many inequalities. For example, one may have two public servants who have retired at the same age, have borne the same degree of responsibility, and have attained the same position before retirement, but who are enjoying widely different pensions according to their dates of retirement.

The further back one goes into the past, the less likely is a pensioner to have a pension in line with modern standards and the present-day cost of living. This is so in spite of any increases that have been granted. One of the objects of the Bill is to show up this disparity with a view to creating greater equality.

The review would also include a special cost-of-living index appropriate to the elderly. I am not criticising the recent revision of the index of retail prices prepared by the Cost of Living Advisory Committee and published in Command Paper 1657. No doubt this new index reflects accurately, or fairly accurately, the changing pattern of expenditure, but it does not reflect the typical expenditure of elderly retired people.

Can one reasonably include in the normal annual expenditure of an elderly retired person motor scooters and perambulators, even though the cost of other forms of transport may have gone up under Dr. Beeching? Again, I have no doubt that the same applies to nylon panties, although that is a subject on which I am not very well informed.

When the case for a special cost-of-living index for the elderly is argued, it is sometimes contended that this might not always work out advantageously for them. I wish to point out that this review would contain two criteria. The first would be the increase in current pensions with which to compare the pensions granted in the past. The second would be changes in the cost of living appropriate to the elderly. I suggest that the year 1939 should be used as a base from which the calculations should be made.

It is only with this information that we can judge to what extent there are injustices and to what extent pensions are out of balance. In advocating this proposal, I am not just putting forward my own pet idea. I have the support in principle of a number of important bodies, including N.A.L.G.O., the Public Service Pensioners' Council, the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, and the Officers' Pensions Society. I have also a bundle of letters expressing support.

An article in the March issue of the Whitley Bulletin points out that
"… the National Staff Side has already pressed the case for Civil Service pensions to be reviewed and adjusted at stated intervals, and as a measure of general policy, for this method to replace the present unsatisfactory procedure."
It concludes:
"the only effective counter measure which could produce a fair result would be a systematic review and adjustment of pension levels at recognised and agreed intervals."
I will give an example. It is the case of a civil servant in Class 1, Administrative Grade, who retired in January, 1950, at the age of 60. A person in a similar grade, with precisely the same length of service and who retired at the same age two years later, would be receiving £66 a year more. If he had retired in 1960 his pension would be almost double. Curiously enough, if he had retired three years earlier, in 1947. he would have been receiving £17 a year more, owing to a peculiar anomaly relating to those retiring in this particular class between 1947 and 1952.

There is no rhyme or reason in it. It is the outcome of complicated pensions legislation which is not based on any consistent policy. I believe that the Treasury is well aware of these anomalies, but nothing has been done to rectify them.

To take a more modest example. A blind shorthand typist stationed in London, commenced work in 1927, was established in 1947 and retired in 1957. This was a total service of thirty years, with only twenty years reckoned for pension, which is 54s. a week. Another blind shorthand-typist with thirty years' service, and in almost precisely the same circumstances, but who started a few years later and retired a few years later, will get 70s. a week. This is little enough, but why should one receive 54s a week and another 70s.?

The whole subject of parity was raised in an interesting article by Air Marshal Sir Gerald Gibbs, in the Daily Telegraph of 3rd February, in which he wrote:
"It seems clear that in the civilised world generally there is a growing realisation of the injustice and hardship caused by the system under which pensions for specific Government and other services are frozen at their original paper value, while their real value dwindles continually with inevitable inflation."
Some of the most striking cases of inequality are to be found among the pensions of those who served in the Armed Forces. The latest proposals, published today, in Cmnd. 1666, Service Pay and Pensions, will not affect that position. They will not affect the past, but only the future. There are many cases of retired officers and other ranks with widely differing rates of retired pay, differing solely because of the date when they retired. There are many elderly retired officers who are even worse off than retired civil servants.

Some of the illustrations of greatest hardship concern widows. Increases were introduced in 1959 following the Report of the Grigg Committee in 1958, but a hard and fast line was drawn between the widows of those who died before 4th November, 1958, and those who died afterwards. Let me give two examples. Time permits me to give only two from the officer class. The first is the widow of a lieut.-commander. She is in receipt of National Assistance and is now 80 years old, and she writes:
"Even with National Assistance, this is not living. It is just existing. I am often cold and hungry."
The second example is of the widow of a lieut.-colonel, who writes as follows:
"I have had to cut down on food this month to buy a much-wanted pair of shoes. I have had to sell all my possessions and I have tried to get work, but my age is against me."
Her age is 72.

These are the forgotten people of our modern society. There are 5,000 of these widows and I am told that they are dying off at the rate of 42 a month. Perhaps a hard-hearted statistician will say that the fact that they are dying off is the answer, but surely we can find a more satisfactory solution, a more humane remedy, than to wait for the chill hand of death.

I am not suggesting that we should wait for a review. Justice could be given now. I am also aware that there are many other pensioners who are not included in the ambit of the Bill. I am not unmindful of their problems, but the Bill would be a step in the right direction.

If any final argument is needed, I make this submission. Hon. Members are in real difficulty. There are so many causes which are brought to their notice. An appeal may be launched on a subject such as this, Motions are tabled and speeches made, and then, perhaps, something is done, possibly inadequately, by the Government and the whole subject then passes from the Parliamentary limelight into the shadows. It does not follow, however, that the anomalies have all been remedied, or that others will not arise.

The object of the Bill is to bring this important matter to the attention of Parliament every two years to enable us to see whether justice is being done. This, surely, is the least we can do to ensure that these former servants of the State and their widows are not forgotten and that Parliament is acting honourably towards these ageing members of our so-called welfare society

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Donald Wade, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Roderic Bowen, Mr. Arthur Holt, Mr. Jeremy Thorpe, and Mr. Eric Lubbock.


Bill to amend the law with regard to the pensions of public service pensioners, and retired officers and other ranks, and widows of the armed services, presented accordingly and read the First time: to be read a Second time upon Friday, 4th May and to be printed. [Bill 86.]

Chairman Of Ways And Means (Rulings)

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman
(Nelson and Colne)