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Oral Answers To Questions
23 November 1965
Volume 721

Ministry Of Power

Pit Closures

2.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will make a statement on pit closures, in the light of his correspondence with the Chairman of the National Coal Board in connection with the Question of the right hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian on 2nd November.

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I propose to discuss this matter in the course of the debate on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill on Thursday.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the letter sent to me by the Chairman of the Board was completely uninformative? Is he further aware that there is a feeling, certainly in Scotland, that we are being kept very much in the dark about the extent of the proposed pit closures? Can he give us an undertaking that he will put the facts before us so that we may know whether or not we should endeavour to make representations?

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I am surprised to hear this because, from what I have read in the Press, people seem to have been very well informed indeed, but certainly I will try to make the situation as clear as possible on Thursday.

40.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will make available to hon. Members in a White Paper the information on pit closures announced by divisional boards on Thursday, 18th November, 1965.

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I think that it would be more appropriate for the information to be available in the Vote Office, and I have arranged this.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have seen this information and that half a dozen stapled foolscap sheets with a list of the collieries to be closed is hardly an adequate substitute for a comprehensive White Paper on the eve of an important debate on this matter? Is he aware that this situation will affect hundreds of constituencies? Will he think again and provide us with a White Paper with a full analysis of the closures as soon as possible?

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I have received no such complaint until today. It certainly is not any objective of mine to leave people under any illusions about this. I will have a look at it again and, if necessary, see what I can do about it.

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I am encouraged by the right hon. Gentleman's attitude, but does he not realise that this is the first opportunity that the House of Commons has had of verbally complaining to him and we are now doing this? Will he bear in mind that the Bill that we are to consider on Thursday demands the writing off of £415 million and that in these circumstances the House of Commons is entitled in the national interest to the fullest possible information?

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It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice that in the last few weeks we have published two White Papers, one on our general fuel policy and one specifically on colliery closures. I should have thought that the information contained in these White Papers dealt adequately with the points the hon. Gentleman is now raising.

Nationalised Industries (General Directions)

3.

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asked the Minister of Power to what extent it is his policy to direct the nationalised industries for which he is responsible to adopt policies other than those dictated by their commercial interests.

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No occasion has arisen for me to issue a general direction. Where boards, in response to the Government's views, act otherwise than in their commercial interest, the procedures of Command 1337 are followed.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that interference with the price of the area gas boards by him-self and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs has raised a doubt about Government policy? Does he realise how much this interference weakens and discourages the efficiency and independence of management of these industries? Will he please refrain from using this as an instrument of Government economic policy?

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I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is now divorcing himself from the White Paper issued by the Government of which he was a member.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the point made by my hon. Friend is that the principles of the White Paper to which he has referred should remain inviolate? What has happened, we suspect, is that interventions by his right hon. Friend the First Secretary are proving absolutely disastrous to those principles.

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I think the hon. Gentleman will find at the end of the quinquennium that the principles contained in the White Paper have not been violated in any way.

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Is it not correct that the previous Administration interfered time and time again with the pricing policy of the Coal Board, and, in particular, is it not the case that the former Prime Minister but one, or two, or three, whatever it was, interfered with fares in London for purely political purposes?

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Yes, of course, Governments have intervened. Otherwise, one of the good effects of nationalised industry would be lost.

Area Gas Boards (Prices)

4.

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asked the Minister of Power whether he will introduce legislation to give himself the power to control the price of gas sold by area gas boards.

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No, Sir.

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Is the Minister aware that Parliament has not given him statutory powers to control the prices of the nationalised industries under his care? Will he, therefore, ask Parliament to give him such powers if he wants to control these prices? If not, will he refrain from doing so?

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To answer the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I return to an earlier Answer. The method by which Parliament and the Government in fact condition these things is by the use of Command Paper 1337.

Electricity (Maximum Charges)

5 and 6.

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asked the Minister of Power (1) if he will seek power to appoint inspectors to look into complaints from tenants who believe that they are being charged for electricity in excess of the maximum charges laid down by the electricity boards;

(2) whether he will introduce the appropriate legislation to enable electricity boards to enforce maximum charges fixed under Section 29 of the Electricity Act, 1957.

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No, Sir, but as I have already made clear, my right hon. Friend is prepared to look into abuses and reconsider the matter if it is shown that there is a genuine need for strengthening the means of enforcement.

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Is the Minister aware that without some form of inspection, either by the electricity boards or the Ministry, it is almost impossible for tenants to obtain the required evidence to enable them to bring cases to the courts? Would it not be much easier to make these powers enforceable by the electricity boards themselves?

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We have tackled this problem very speedily. We have decided to see how the present arrangements work and we have asked the electricity consultative councils to report back to us. If further action is needed, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will take it.

Energy Advisory Committee

7.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will amend the composition of his Energy Advisory Committee to include a substantial number of independent experts, scientific, engineering and economic.

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No, Sir.

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Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the usefulness of the present Energy Advisory Committee is limited because it cannot give any genuinely independent advice? In view of that, will my right hon. Friend please take seriously the suggestion made in the Question?

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I hope that I always take suggestions seriously. When there is an occasion for the Council to have special advice I invite such gentlemen to attend. Indeed, I have already had the advantage of having the assistance of the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board and, on one occasion, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority as well.

Advisory Council On Research And Development

8.

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asked the Minister of Power how often his Advisory Council on Research and Development meets; what are the nature and frequency of its reports; how many of its reports have received his approval; and to whom, when approved, the reports are sent for implementation.

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The Council meets and advises me at about two-monthly intervals. Its advice deals broadly with the objectives, major projects, balance of effort and degree of co-ordination of research and development by the fuel and power industries. Its influence is achieved in two ways; first, through the deliberations of the Council, which includes representatives of the nationalised fuel and power industries amongst its members, and, secondly, through the discussions which I have with their chairmen on the basis of its advice.

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Does my right hon. Friend feel that the Advisory Council on Research and Development is assisting towards the closer working together from the technical point of view of the fuel and power industries?

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I do indeed. The Advisory Council is doing a first-class job and I am sure that the whole House will agree when I say how indebted we are to Lord Fleck, who served as chairman for so many years, for the work that has already been done.

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Would the Minister say whether research is continuing into the production of smokeless fuels, with particular regard to the more efficient production of these fuels, at cheaper prices?

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Yes, indeed. A great deal of work is being done on this subject.

Scottish Gas Board (Smoke Control Orders)

9.

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asked the Minister of Power whether he is satisfied with the provision made by the Scottish Gas Board to assist householders affected by smoke control orders; and whether he will give a general direction to the Board to take steps to ensure that there will be no difficulties in areas to be affected by future smoke control orders.

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The Board makes every effort to meet householders' requirements in these areas. No particular difficulty is expected to arise under forthcoming new orders in Scotland.

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Would the right hon. Gentleman inquire into the situation in Cathcart? Is he aware that some of the residents there who are affected by the order were told by the Board's salesmen that they would have to wait for only a matter of days or weeks for gas appliances, but that in some cases they Lave had to wait for more than four months because of alleged unprecedented demand—while at the same time the Board's salesmen have been promising speedy delivery and have, thereby, been creating a greater demand? Will he see that this mistake is not made again?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the suggestion in the first part of his supplementary question. I am aware of some of the matters which he alleges. There has been some delay in the supply and fitting of appliances in regard to a smoke control area of Glasgow. This has been due in part to the heavy demand on the manufacturers of the appliances and the Board's staff who equip these appliances. I understand that installation will be completed by the end of the year, which will be three months after the due date. The Board has undertaken to see that no similar difficulties arise under forthcoming control orders.

Scottish Gas Board (General Directions)

10.

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asked the Minister of Power what new general directions he will give to the Scottish Gas Board, following receipt of the Board's annual report.

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None, Sir.

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Is the Minister not aware that the activities of the Scottish Gas Board have become a national scandal? If he feels that a complacent attitude on this matter is satisfied, would the right hon. Gentleman talk to some of the residents in Scotland who have suffered a 6 per cent. price increase in February and who are now faced with a further increase of 13 per cent.

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There is no question of my having any complacency about this matter. I am aware of the difficulties which the Scottish Gas Board has had, but they are issues in which I have no statutory powers to intervene. Indeed, these matters go to the Consultative Council; and if the Council refers any matter to me then I can intervene.

Nationalised Industries (Prices And Tariffs)

11.

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asked the Minister of Power what machinery exists for co- ordination between his Department and the Department of Economic Affairs concerning proposals by boards of nationalised industries to increase prices and tariffs.

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The normal arrangements apply for close and constant liaison between Departments.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman really not aware that by far the best form of co-ordination between his Department and that of his right hon. Friend would be for him to tell his right hon. Friend not to interfere in matters with which he is not competent to deal and about which he knows nothing?

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I will inform my right hon. Friend of the hon. Gentleman's opinion.

West Durham (Industrial Development)

12.

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asked the Minister of Power what proposals he has, following Command Paper No. 2805, to allocate special funds to provide alternative industrial development in West Durham, which has become an urgent priority due to the pending redundancy at Brancepeth, waterhouses and Esh Winning collieries.

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My right hon. Friend will be speaking about the special funds generally during the debate on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill on Thursday.

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Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind before Thursday that this is a very urgent matter indeed and that, as well as funds being made available, he might endeavour to prevent any pit closures before alternative industry is provided?

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I understand the concern that is felt about special funds. There have been discussions with the National Union of Mineworkers on this matter and perhaps the whole subject will be canvassed on Thursday.

North Sea (Oil)

13.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will state the nature, kind, extent and result of his investigations into the effect of the discovery of oil in the North Sea for which he has given licences on the fish shoals and on the number and fertility of fish in the North Sea.

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Offshore drilling and oil production in other parts of the world appears to have had no adverse effect on fish. I have no evidence to suggest that the effects will be different in the North Sea.

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My Question does not deal with other parts of the world. Does my hon. Friend realise that the fishing industry of the North Sea is of particular interest to the trade, industry and employment of Aberdeen as well as to the fish consumers of this country? Will he abandon this secrecy and publish the facts?

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My hon. and learned Friend invites me to abandon secrecy and publish the facts. I should, perhaps, inform him, first, that the operations in the North Sea will affect only a fraction of the sea area while, secondly, I understand that landings of fish from the North Sea last year were better than in the previous year.

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Would the Parliamentary Secretary make available the information he has about the effect on fish in the area around the oil drills off the American Continent?

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I will certainly look into that matter, but perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will put down a Question.

14.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will make it a condition of future licences issued by him to companies to drill for oil in the North Sea that they should keep him fully informed of their progress and the quantities of oil discovered, with a view to his publishing this information.

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Under the regulations approved by Parliament, the full information which I receive from licensees is given me on a confidential basis.

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Does not my right hon. Friend realise that the North Sea is not private property but public property and that the public is entitled to the fullest information about the North Sea? Will my right hon. Friend see that all the information is published?

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My hon. and learned Friend should be graceful enough to acknowledge that the Opposition nationalised the North Sea and that it is, in fact, public property. Frankly, if this information were divulged it would mean that a number of people who now hold licences would merely wait for other people to fail, and then not drill.

22.

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asked the Minister of Power whether, in granting licences for exploration of the North Sea bed, he takes into account the availability of drilling rigs and ancillary equipment.

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Yes, Sir.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread concern at the reported delay in delivery, which I understand to be four months and in some cases even five months? Can he tell the House whether delays in this vital installation programme are the result of industrial disputes in the shipyards, or where is the responsibility?

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No. I do not think so. I understand that there are some delays, but at the moment I think there are five rigs drilling and we expect that this number will be raised to at least 13 by the second half of next year.

Coal, Gas And Electricity Industries (Advertising)

15.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will issue general directions, in the public interest, to the boards of the nationalised coal, gas and electricity industries to reduce the competition between them, with particular reference to sales promotion practices connected with the sale of domestic heating equipment.

29.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will give a general direction to the gas and electricity industries to cease advertising their products until they are able to meet the demands of their existing customers.

31.

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asked the Minister of Power whether he will,give a general direction, in the public interest, to electricity and gas area boards to cease advertising until they are able to meet consumer demands.

37.

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asked the Minister of Power what plans he has for reviewing the advertising campaigns of the gas and electricity industries.

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Following discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself, the chairmen of the rationalised fuel industries have agreed to discontinue advertising, both national and local, with certain minor exceptions, for a period of three months from 1st December, 1965.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the reasons why the gas shortage has been aggravated is the high pressure and despicable sales methods of gas boards? Is he aware that I have with me details of the condemnation of these methods by a judge in a case where a gas board sent a salesman round at a very low basic wage on the pretence of inspecting equipment but with the real job of selling new equipment? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this has aggravated the situation outlined in the House last week, and will he do something about it?

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I do not think that that subject is covered by my hon. Friend's Question or by the Answer which I gave to it. I was merely talking about advertising.

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Would the Minister bear in mind the advantages of oil heating and private enterprise?

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There are great advantages in all these kinds of fuel, but I should have thought it inappropriate at this moment for the public to be confronted by advertisements of this kind when they know that there is a danger of cuts, and so on.

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Is the Minister aware that his decision—taken, of course, since these Questions were put down—will be generally welcomed by the public, who found it a little irritating to find their own supplies cut when these advertisements were still circulating? But why does he now try to include oil in this respect? After all, oil can be supplied—why should it not be advertised?

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In some areas, all fuel can be supplied. It would therefore seem to me to be better—although national advertisements may be all right in a large part of the country but are not applicable to certain areas—not to advertise at all during this period. The oil industry has understood this very well, and has cooperated with us.

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Would not my right hon. Friend consider that it would be in the national interest to promote the sale of coal while stocks are available, and so relieve the pressure on gas and electricity?

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I can assure my hon. Friend that nothing we will do will prevent the National Coal Board or distributors of coal from attempting to do more than they have been doing.

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Would not the Minister agree that now is the time to promote the sale of oil, if there are ready supplies that can be used, and not discourage its sale by discouraging advertising?

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I thought that I had answered that point when I referred to the different positions in the different regions. There are occasions when electricity, gas and oil are in plentiful supply, as well as coal, but I think that all of them come into the same category.

Electricity Supplies

16.

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asked the Minister of Power if he is satisfied about the security of electricity supply in the Gravesend and Northfleet area during the next six months; and if he will make a statement.

23.

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asked the Minister of Power if he is satisfied about the security of the electricity supply to consumers in the North Eastern Electricity Board area in meeting the additional demands upon it during the winter months; and if he will make a statement.

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The distribution systems of the North Eastern and the South Eastern Electricity Boards are generally adequate to meet expected demands this winter, although local difficulties cannot be excluded. But if national demand overloads the available generating capacity or the main transmission system, area electricity boards would be required to reduce load.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but would he confirm that over the last year the capacity at the Northfleet power station was reduced by 100,000 kilowatts? Will he see that this position does not recur in the future?

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I could not give the answer in regard to the specific amount that my hon. Friend mentions, but I can assure him that we are certainly doing everything possible, in conjunction with the industry, to ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. If the weather conditions make it inevitable that there should be cuts, I am afraid that this year they will take place.

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As one knows that electricity generating plant takes about five years to manufacture—and I have a large manufacturing concern in my constituency—would my right hon. Friend tell me whether the present situation in the North-East is the result of under-estimation of the demand in the early 'sixties in the plans approved by the party opposite?

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The Generating Board was basing itself this year on a plant margin of about 14 per cent. It is the case that if there is an under-estimate in, say, 1960, inevitably one will not meet the demand in 1965 in adverse conditions. It is also the case that in making its estimates, the Board has to take into account the outage of plant, the inaccuracy that can take place in load forecasting and in forecasting the weather. It is true that we have now reached a position this year on the basis of the 1960 forecasting, where we are 2,700 megawatts short.

Electricity And Gas Supplies

17.

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asked the Minister of Power if he is satisfied about the security of electricity supply nationally during the next six months; and if he will make a statement.

20.

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asked the Minister of Power what preparations the Central Electricity Generating Board are making to deal with the cold spell forecast by the long-distance weather forecast service for the first half of December.

21.

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asked the Minister of Power what steps he is taking to maintain gas and electricity services at all times this winter and to avoid power cuts during cold spells.

27.

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asked the Minister of Power what safeguarding action he proposes to take to avoid inconvenience to the public arising from electricity power breakdowns this winter.

33.

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asked the Minister of Power whether he will issue a general direction, in the public interest, to the electricity boards and the gas boards to complete their winter arrangements by 1st November in future years.

34.

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asked the Minister of Power what steps he is taking to avert further public inconvenience and hardship of the kind suffered during the recent cold weather; why the winter preparations of the electricity and gas boards were not complete by mid-November; and if he will make a statement.

41.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will give general directions to the gas and electricity boards to complete the annual overhaul of their plants earlier than mid-November.

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The Government have announced that a winter emergency committee covering the fuel, power and transport industries is being set up to deal with any emergency that arises and, so far as possible, to take action in advance of any strain that may develop. The industries are doing everything possible to bring their plant to a high state of readiness and to bring new plant into service.

As far as future winters are concerned, the industries have been asked to plan their withdrawal of plant for annual overhaul so that their full capacity is available by the end of October each year.

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While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he will ensure that enough publicity is given to these facts, and will he point out that this has been due to a general lack of planning by the previous Administration?

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I have pointed out the shortage that we have to meet this year. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Board is doing a first-class job of work in keeping in commission plant that otherwise would have gone out of commission—and, maybe, at times overstraining other plant in order to ensure that it cuts down the gaps to a minimum. That approach will continue.

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As these vital industries, gas and electricity, are at present unable in moments of crisis to meet the demands, can the Minister give the House the absolute assurance that there will be no cut in the vital investment programme that these industries are about to undertake?

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We have no intention of cutting any investment programme.

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Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to answer the second part of Question No. 34, which, I think, was not answered in his original reply? Also, does he recall that, many months ago, a number of shop stewards at Beckton Works issued a detailed warning of the likelihood of a gas shortage this winter because of the loss of skilled manpower at those works and the abolition of reliable coal-burning plant?

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I have mentioned that there is now a shortage of plant. This does have its effect on the stage at which the boards can begin to make their plant ready for the winter. In other words, they have to keep longer in commission during the summer period plant that they would otherwise be renovating against the winter period—[Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite want me to begin talking about private enterprise, I will do so. It is because private enterprise let the boards down that they now have to overwork the plant they have, and that does result in the fact that their winter programme is not ready as early as it otherwise would be.

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Does the Minister realise that his Answer to the first group of Questions is rather unsatisfactory? Can he indicate whether the emergency committee to which he refers will be a permannt body in order that plans can be conf dently completed by 1st November in future years?

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It is intended that the committee shall function during the course of this winter. I have intimated the real cause of the problem. As far as that goes, the Generating Board, the Gas Council and the boards will keep in the closest possible communication with their suppliers to ensure that they get the best delivery possible.

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In order to keep this matter in perspective, can my right hon. Friend tell us how much it would cost in terms of national resources to obviate all possible power difficulties in a period of prolonged bad weather? How much, in money, would have to be spent in order to give the sort of assurance asked for by hon. Members opposite?

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I mentioned, I think, that the Board's plan was to have a margin this year of 14 per cent., rising by 1969–1970 to 17 per cent. This should give the kind of margin to which my hon. Friend refers, but because of the things I have pointed out—lack of supplies, and so on —that margin is now down to 7·4 per cent. Obviously, on that basis, if the weather conditions at any one point become acute, that 7·4 per cent. will not meet the position.

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In order to get this matter quite straight, does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the plans on which he is relying now were made by the previous Administration? [HON. MEMBERS: "And the shortages"] In reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's statement that there will be no cuts in electricity or gas investment, but has he at any time contemplated the wisdom of an increase and is he now advising that?

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That is a very wide question of which I should need notice. The hon. Member has been very fair in these matters. In our debates some time ago he said that it was easy to ask that supplies should be sufficient for an exceptional winter, but to do that we must accept that we would be faced with the cost. Because of that it is not possible this year to make these 100 per cent. secure.

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Owing to the very confused nature of the reply to my Question, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter again at the earliest possible moment.

Power Stations (Cooling Towers)

18 and 19.

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asked the Minister of Power (1) if he is satisfied that a 5-inch wall of concrete, with the present system of reinforcement, is adequate to meet the stresses of air movement, having regard to the height to which cooling towers are now being erected at conventional power stations; and if he will make a statement;

(2) if he will conduct investigations into the temperature in which concrete was laid in the erection of three cooling towers which blew down in the recent gale in Yorkshire; and if anti-freezing processes were used to ensure fusion of concrete aggregates in low temperatures.

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My right hon. Friend is not responsible for the design and methods of construction used by the Central Electricity Generating Board and its contractors in constructing power stations. However, the points raised by my hon. Friend will doubtless be engaging the attention of the Committee of Inquiry which has been set up by the Board to inquire into the collapse of cooling towers at Ferrybridge Power Station.

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I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that reply, but I should like to draw his attention to the fact that a great number of conversations are taking place—

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The hon. Member must put this in the form of a question.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that a great number of conversations are taking place in my constituency where many people are employed on this power station, that these towers were erected by private enterprise, avoiding certain safeguards which could have been taken, and as a consequence this calamity occurred? It did not lead to any fatalities, but these things can happen and we are asking the Minister to ensure that proper precautions should be taken against the placing of—

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Order. The Minister has had enough to answer.

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I agree with my hon. Friend that there is great concern about this issue. The terms of reference of the Committee of Inquiry which has been set up by the Board are "to examine the collapse of the cooling towers at Ferry-bridge and to make recommendations" This is a very important matter. In addition to the Committee of Inquiry, two joint working parties are investigating the matter. It is a matter of great concern to the nation and to the Board.

Fuel Policy (White Paper)

26.

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asked the Minister of Power what official consultations he has had with the interests concerned on the implementation of the White Paper on a national fuel policy.

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I keep in close touch with the interests concerned in the implementation of fuel policy, particularly the fuel industries.

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In view of the fact that coal is a national indigenous product, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he is satisfied that as much research is being put into the use of coal as into the use of oil?

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I can assure my hon. Friend that a very great deal of research is being put into the use of coal. I now have the assistance of a joint research committee of the electricity, gas and coal industries. Despite the fact that at the moment the economics of carbonisation are not as good as they are in oil, that does not mean that we are not doing all this research in the hope of getting a break-through.

Gas And Electricity (Capital Expenditure)

28.

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asked the Minister of Power what capital sum was spent in the last year by the Gas Boards and the Central Electricity Generating Board; and what proportion this represented of total capital expenditure in the public sector.

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I would refer the hon. Member to the published Reports and Accounts for 1964–65 of the Gas Council and the Central Electricity Generating Board. Total capital expenditure by the gas and electricity industries was nearly one quarter of capital expenditure by the public sector.

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Does not that represent a very big precentage? Is the Minister sure that it is now being spent to the best advantage from the point of view of the nation?

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I think it is being spent to the best interests of the nation provided we can get the gear we pay for.

Gas And Electricity (Power Cuts)

30.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will give general directions, in the public interest, to the Gas Council and the Central Electricity Generating Board to take disciplinary action against those responsible for the recent power cuts.

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No, Sir. The recent difficulties were not due to the faults of individuals. Gas and electricity staffs made very great efforts to maintain supplies.

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Does the Minister think that the public will ever be well served so long as no one is willing to take the blame in the public service?

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If that is the case, the hon. Member should address his Front Bench on the subject.

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Will my right hon. Friend agree that these are devoted engineers, devoted public servants—[Interruption]—who are doing their public duty in the public interest to avoid the kind of complete shutdown in the public supply system which the country had three years ago?

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I join my hon. Friend entirely in this. It is so easy when there is a partial breakdown in supply for what I might call energy illiterates to blame those who are working hard. The energy and efforts of those connected with these Boards are absolutely remarkable.

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Order. It is against the courtesies of the House for an hon. Member to step between whoever is speaking and the Chair if that can be avoided.

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I beg to apologise to you, Mr. Speaker.

Electricity Supplies (Import From Western Germany)

32.

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asked the Minister of Power whether he will issue a general direction, in the public interest, to the Central Electricity Generating Board to import electrical power from West Germany to overcome shortages in this country, having regard to the earlier hour of factory closing in Germany compared with this country in winter.

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Arrangements for the exchange of power with Western Germany would be very costly and present severe technical difficulties. They could not be made in time to help overcome the present shortage of plant in this country.

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As German factories close at 4 p.m. our time, would it not be easy to lay a cable across the North Sea and to pump in electricity from the Continent as we do from France and so have a supply of electricity at the moment when our peak load is on?

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I have looked closely at this, but we could not possibly arrange for it to be done in advance of catching up on the supply we have been discussing this afternoon. We are closely connected with France, and have been obtaining power from there as late as last night, to my knowledge. I can assure the hon. Member that although I have looked at the situation in the light of the present position, this would not help.

Coal (Export To Eastern Europe)

35.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will give a general direction, in the public interest, to the National Coal Board to take energetic steps to increase the volume of coal exports to countries of Eastern Europe.

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No, Sir. The export of coal is a commercial matter for the National Coal Board. I understand that the Board is making energetic efforts to increase sales wherever satisfactory opportunities can be found.

Fuel And Power Industries (Co-Ordination)

36.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will issue general directions to the nationalised fuel and power industries so as to bring about greater coordination between them.

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I promote coordination between the nationalised fuel and power industries through discussion in my Co-ordinating Committee and in other ways. No occasion has arisen for the issue of a direction.

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Would not my right hon. Friend agree that much of the existing competition between these nationalised industries is expensive, wasteful and unnecessary? Therefore, would he look at this problem again and consider the possibility of strengthening the co-ordinating functions of the Energy Advisory Council or alternatively setting up a new national power board under his own chairmanship?

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As I said in the White Paper, the scope for further co-operation will be kept under review. We are indeed doing a great deal now. I have set up machinery by which there are regular meetings under my chairmanship between the chairmen of these various boards and, in the wider context, there is the Energy Advisory Council itself. However, I do not look upon this as the end of the story. Rather, it is the beginning of it.

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Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if he were to follow the advice given by his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park), it would be tantamount to telling the customer to take what he is given and like it? Will he bear in mind that by far the best guarantee of satisfaction to the customer, indeed the only one, is competition between these industries?

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I think that where there are nationalised industries there is more to it than competition. The very basis upon which the Statutes were drawn presupposes some competition between them. Because of the overriding responsibility, to the nation, it is right and proper that the Government should supervise them.

Gas (Maximum Retail Prices)

38.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will take steps to give the Gas Boards the right to check the setting of sub-meters, and to empower the Boards to take the necessary legal action against landlords who overcharge sub-tenants for the use of gas, and thus remove the onus of such action from sub-consumers.

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Maximum resale prices for gas have been fixed for some years, but there has been little evidence of overcharging. Before considering the introduction of further legislation, my right hon. Friend would need to be convinced that the present arrangements were not working satisfactorily.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that on numerous occasions in recent months the chairmen of consultative councils have in fact provided the Minister with adequate evidence that this over-charging goes on and that there are many thousands of people throughout the country who are being exploited by rotten landlords who find that this is a cheap method of adding some extras to their rent? Does not my hon. Friend consider that this is adequate evidence to justify taking some action now, as has been done in the case of electricity?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I understand that he is dealing with gas. If he has any particulars, my right hon. Friend and myself will be most grateful to receive them. If consumers do not send them to us, they may send them to the consultative councils. I assure my hon. Friend that if action is needed it will be taken.

Coal

National Coal Board (Capital Investment Programme)

24.

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asked the Minister of Power to what extent the capital investment programme of the National Coal Board is geared to the 1970 target as specified in the National Plan.

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I would refer my hon. Friend to paragraph 13 of the White Paper on the Finances of the Coal Industry.

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In view of the fact that last year £90 million was invested in the coal industry, does not my right hon. Friend think that in the national interest maximum productivity should be obtained even if that means exceeding the £90 million?

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I certainly think the maximum should be obtained. No target is fixed in the White Paper. This is merely an assessment and, if the coal industry can beat it, the best of British luck to it.

Central Heating Installations (Solid Fuel)

25.

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asked the Minister of Power if he will issue a general direction, in the public interest, to the National Coal Board to offer concessions to private consumers wishing to install central heating appliances using solid fuels.

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No, Sir. The Board already has a scheme to provide deferred payment facilities for the purchase of solid fuel appliances.

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Will my hon. Friend ask the National Coal Board to set up central manufacturing facilities for the production of solid fuel central heating appliances for district heating on municipil housing estates?

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I am sure that if that suggestion is within the powers of the Board, the Board will bear it in mind. Since 1960, under the present scheme loans of over £25 million have been made for the kind of heating referred to in my Answer.

Atlantic Nuclear Force

Q1.

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asked the Prime Minister whether the public statement made by the Foreign Secretary in New York on 7th October at a Press conference about the Atlantic Nuclear Force represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

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Yes, Sir.

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In that case is it not regrettable that in the House yesterday the Foreign Secretary appeared to reaffirm his support for the A.N.F.? Is is not clear that there are better ways than this for arranging for a German share in nuclear matters? Will not the Government now come out clearly and drop the proposal?

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We have not heard from the Opposition what better way; they have of arranging this matter. The hon. Gentleman said that there are better ways. We consider the A.N.F. to be the best way of dealing with this problem and so far half the party opposite has been supporting the M.L.F. and half has been against it. I am not sure what better way the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

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Is not the best way of obtaining parity with the Germans for neither of us to have it? Have the Americans in fact offered to bring about this arrangement by purchasing the Polaris submarines from us, and would not this be an admirable export?

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There has not been this proposition from the American Government, although I am aware of the Press reports to the effect that this may be coming up for discussion. The House will recognise that there has been no opportunity yet within the alliance to discuss the problems of A.N.F. and M.L.F. because of the long delay owing to the German elections,

Nuclear Weapons

Q2 and Q3.

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asked the Prime Minister (1) why Her Majesty's Government did not table the draft of a treaty on non-dissemination of nuclear weapons at Geneva during the Recess as he foreshadowed in a statement in the House of Commons on 27th July;

(2) why Her Majesty's Government did not join the United States Government in sponsoring the draft treaty on non-dissemination of nuclear weapons tabled at Geneva by the United States of America on 17th August.

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We did not table the United Kingdom draft non-dissemination treaty at Geneva because it went further than the views of some of our allies on the question of the control of nuclear weapons. Much of the United States draft treaty was based on the text prepared by the United Kingdom, and while giving it our general support, we made it clear that we would like to see it amended in certain respects. For this reason, we could not join in sponsoring it.

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Why was the disagreement with the Americans discovered only at the last moment when the Geneva Conference was reassembling, and what were the Government and the Minister for Disarmament doing in the months beforehand? Can the Prime Minister say whether the new initiative in disarmament described in the Labour Party's manifesto as coming first and foremost has yet taken place?

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What we were doing all these months was to try to reach agreement with the Americans. Again there were difficulties because of the German elections. The position is that we do not support the idea of a separate independent European nuclear deterrent. This was the point at issue both between ourselves and the United States and between ourselves and the Germans.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that the kind of proposals put forward by the Minister for Disarmament have received widespread support and are regarded as by far the most practicable proposals on this subject which have recently been put forward by any one of the major Powers? Will my right hon. Friend give further support to this policy so that we see that we get a wider East-West agreement before we create any barriers to that agreement by internal arrangements?

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I believe that as time goes on we shall find more and more support for the propositions put forward by my noble Friend. I hope that as a result of discussions within the alliance we may get widespread support for it within the alliance itself.

Scotland (Economic Planning)

Q4.

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asked the Prime Minister what are the respective responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and the Secretary of State for Scotland for economic planning in Scotland.

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I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave to a Question by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) on 1st February.

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Is the Prime Minister aware that we have been told that local authority borrowing in Scotland has been slashed by one-third? Yet the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs appears to believe that Scotland has been unaffected by the consequences of the Government's mishandling of our affairs? Would he take steps to ensure that the First Secretary of State knows what is being done in the Government's name in Scotland?

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I think my right hon. Friend certainly knows who was responsible for the mishandling of the nation's affairs. The hon. Gentleman is free at any time to put questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on the precise effects of the local government position there.

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Is not the Prime Minister aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave specific undertakings that development districts, of which the central belt of Scotland is one, would be exempted from the reductions in capital expenditure, and we as a Government gave a similar undertaking when the Scottish White Paper was published and implemented? Yet now local authority borrowing has been slashed by one-third. How can the Prime Minister reconcile these two things?

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I think that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to study what has actually happened there—we are prepared to make a very much fuller statement in view of what he has said—he will find that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement has been carried out.

Pre-School Children

Q5.

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asked the Prime Minister what representations he has received on the establishment of a Royal Commission on the needs of the pre-school child; and what decision he has reached.

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None, Sir.

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Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is a growing body of opinion among people working in education, health and social affairs that the under-fives are the most dispossessed and deprived section of the community? Would he indicate to the House that he is consulting with his colleagues with responsibility in these departments with a view to having a sympathetic look at the proposal?

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I agree that there is certainly a problem here, and the Central Advisory Council for Education, the one dealing with England, is at present considering all aspects of primary education, including the educational needs of children under five.

Ministerial Salaries

Q7.

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asked the Prime Minister what percentage increase the estimated current cost per year of Ministerial salaries represents over the year 1963; and whether he will now reduce the size of the Administration.

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Eighty-eight per cent., Sir; largely due to the decisions reached following the recommendations 4at the Lawrence Committee appointed by my predecessor.

The Answer to the last part of the Question is "No. Sir".

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Would not the Prime Minister agree that one of the main reasons why the cost of living has gone u so fast in the last year is the fact that there has been very little coordination between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Secretary of Slate? Should we not have the two Departments amalgamated so that coordination between them can be achieved?

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I thought that the Question related to Ministerial salaries. The point that I was trying to make was that the increase in Ministerial salaries about which the hon. Gentleman asks would have been not 88 per cent. but well over 100 per cent., even on the size of the previous Administration, if we had carried out in full the Report of the Committee which was appointed by the previous Government.

Department Of Economic Affairs And Ministry Of Overseas Development

Q8.

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asked the Prime Minister, in view of the need to reconcile the objectives of the National Plan and the need to expand the volume of overseas aid, if he will take steps to coordinate the activities of the Department of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Overseas Development.

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The work of these two Departments is already co-ordinated.

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Is the Prime Minister aware that the co-ordination so far achieved has been the specifying and quantifying of substantial advances for G.N.P. in this country and for personal consumption but no specification or quantification for the growth of overseas aid? Will he give a firm undertaking that the volume of aid will increase at least as much as the 21 per cent. specified for personal consumption?

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In the programme there is provision for overseas aid, but, as to looking five years ahead, we have to watch the position of overseas aid because of growth in commitments some of which have to be met. That is why we have yet reached no final decision about what the position will he by 1970. We are trying to ensure that what we can afford for overseas aid is effectively spent in relation to development programmes in other countries.

Kenya (European Farmers)

Q9.

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asked the Prime Minister what official communications he has had with the President of Kenya about the future of the European mixed farmers in Kenya.

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Exchanges between myself and other Heads of Government are confidential.

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Is the Prime Minister aware that the recently agreed loan to the Government of Kenya means a reduction in land transfer from Europeans to Africans from an annual rate of about 500,000 acres to 100,000 acres? Is he aware that there is some real anxiety about the security of European farmers and about their ability to get reasonable prices for their land as a result of the decision, and will he watch the situation carefully?

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Yes, Sir; I am aware of the anxiety referred to. It is a fact that I have had discussions with the President of Kenya. My right hon. Friend made a statement about this in the House last week, and has made a further statement which has been placed in the Library, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be studying it.

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Is the Prime Minister aware that 100,000 acres a year will in no way satisfy the land hunger existing among the African population? As Kenya is an example to other areas of Africa, would he not consider again intervening personally in order to raise the acreage to at least 200,000, which I understand is the figure that the Kenya Government would like to see?

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We are in touch with the Government of Kenya, but the general responsibility for the allocation of land must lie with them. The House will have noticed the considerable satisfaction—despite the anxieties—expressed by Europeans in Kenya, of which they have recently sent a statement to another part of Africa.

European Economic Community

Q12.

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asked the Prime Minister if, at the earliest opportunity and in consultation with Great Britain's partners in the European Free Trade Association, he will seek to further the concept of European unity, and to prevent further damage to that concept and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, by means of a new British initiative towards the European Economic Community.

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The European Free Trade Association Ministerial Council at its meeting last month reaffirmed the initiative Her Majesty's Government took at the Vienna meeting, and is pressing the community for discussions aimed at ending the economic division of Western Europe.

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While welcoming that reply, may I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not time that a further initiative was taken by Her Majesty's Government, because the 19th-century policies of the French President are placing the European Economic Community, and, indeed, possibly N.A.T.O., in jeopardy? Is it not time for the British Government to drop their policy of passivity and take the initiative?

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I am not sure that immediately after the return of the Leader of the Opposition from Paris—we all welcome him back—we should have these phrases of criticism of the French President in that form. We have on both sides of the House taken the view that it is not for us to intervene in the dis- agreement within the Community, taking one side or the other. All of us have expressed, as the right hon. Gentleman did yesterday, our deep concern and also our very sincere hope that the difficulties will be overcome as soon as possible.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is prepared to contemplate an initiative on his part which is less hamstrung with a lot of conditions than the one which he described previously?

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We took an initiative at Vienna, and we are now awaiting the response from the Community. We fully understand that, because of difficulties in the Community, it is difficult for it at this stage to respond to our initiative.

Southern Rhodesia (Governor And Lady Gibbs)

Q13.

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asked the Prime Minister if he will send to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, a token force of the Brigade of Guards to protect the lives of the Governor and Lady Gibbs for so long as they remain in that country as the Queen's personal representatives under present circumstances.

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No, Sir.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that his Answer will cause a good deal of serious misgiving to many people in this country? Is he further aware that the situation with regard to the Governor in Rhodesia is such that if anything happened to him a very serious misgiving would arise in this country, and even more so in Africa, that it might have been due to the Smith regime's being remiss? Will not my right hon. Friend think this out again?

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I certainly agree with what my hon. Friend said about concern for the Governor—the whole House will agree, too—but when there were threatening letters Mr. Smith himself, I think, restored the guard to ensure that nothing happened to the Governor. All I am concerned to say is that what my hon. Friend has in mind is not the right way to deal with the matter.

Vietnam

Q14.

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asked the Prime Minister, in pursuance of his initiative to seek peace in Vietnam, what consultations he has had with President Johnson about the offers made by the Government of North Vietnam to start discussions about the ending of the war in Vietnam.

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We are in constant touch with the United States Administration at all levels but we have not ye: had from the North Vietnamese authorities any clear sign of willingness to negotiate.

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rose—[Laughter.]

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Mr. Philip Noel-Baker.

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In view of the startling admissions made last week by the State Department, and of the appalling savagery of the methods used by both sides in the war in Vietnam, will my right hon. Friend consider whether he and his colleagues in the Commonwealth Peace Mission could not now attempt to secure in the General Assembly of the United Nations a world consensus about the conditions on which discussions could begin for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement of the war?

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I certainly agree that the Vietnamese fighting is not a laughing matter, as may be thought on the benches opposite. With regard to what my right hon. Friend referred to—an attempt to get a settlement—this was, in fact, in September, 1964, and I heard about it afterwards. It is the aim of the Government of this country to get people round a table, and I think that we began to get some success, from April onwards at any rate, in getting American willingness to go there. Finally, with regard to his suggestion, I am in touch with other members of the Commonwealth Peace Mission. The whole matter has been raised again very recently as a result of my visit to Africa, and, also, I hope that I shall be in touch with the President of the United States before too long. But I do not believe that the right place at which to raise this at the moment is either the Security Council or the General Assembly, for reasons which my right hon. Friend will recognise.

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As we now know, in May the French Government passed on the offer from Hanoi to negotiate provided only that the Americans withdrew their troops. Can the Prime Minister say what it was which led him to make his proposals in June, when the Commonwealth Peace Mission stood no chance of success at all?

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There is a great deal of doubt about the message from the French Government, and I do not accept the summary of it as stated by the noble Lord. In June we took our initiative representing the whole Commonwealth, every point of view on the Vietnam issue, but it was clear in all that followed that we got no response at all from Hanoi to a proposition, certainly not on the lines mentioned by the noble Lord.

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Can the right hon. Gentleman say what conditions, if any, were attached to this offer of negotiations by Hanoi? In view of his recent discovery that some approach was made, does the Prime Minister consider that any fresh negotiation by Her Majesty's Government is worth while at the present time?

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This is not a recent discovery. I heard a long time ago about the initiative taken by Hanoi in September, 1964, although there was no reason to suppose that it looked, at that time, like solving the problem. I have not been given any information by any Government with whom we are in touch suggesting that there was any reasonable offer by Hanoi. Our task must be to probe continuously to see if there is any chance of a willingness, even a conditional willingness, to come to the conference table.

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Following the revelations we have had in relation to the United States Government, will my right hon. Friend impress upon that Government that this country will not accept any extension of the war into North Vietnam or the bombing of Haiphong or any of these other places?

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I am not accepting any responsibility for what happened before October, 1964. The revelations my hon. Friend referred to were made in September, 1964. Our task earlier this year was to try to bring about negotiations through the Commonwealth Peace Mission. The speech by President Johnson in Baltimore in May made clear the United States Government's willingness to negotiate and it has since been elaborated on. If we could get a similar willingness from Hanoi there might me more hope of getting negotiations.

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Order. The Prime Minister—statement.

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May I ask the Prime Minister—

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Order. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) heard me. Question Time is over. I called the Prime Minister to make a statement.