§ 24. That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £60, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Air Services for the year, including a further grant in aid to the Royal Society.
§ [For details of Resolutions, see OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1955; cols. 1875–76.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I believe that this Supplementary Estimate deals with the mechanics of transferring to the local authorities the distribution of welfare foods, and I want to put some questions to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland about the transfer of this function. We on this side of the House have no objection to the principle of transferring the function to the local authorities. We have always regarded the provision of welfare foods as a vital part of the social services, and I think that the Labour Government played a notable part in extending and consolidating this provision.
We are concerned not so much with the mechanics of the transfer as the actual uptake itself. I should be glad if the Joint Under-Secretary would give us some figures, on the lines of those which were given by the Minister of Health, of the uptake of cod liver oil, orange juice, vitamin tablets and so on. The Minister of Health gave some startling figures, showing a reduction in the consumption of these welfare foods since the transfer of function to the local authorities. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us a little more information relevant to Scotland than was given by the Minister. After showing how the consumption of cod liver oil and orange juice had been reduced, the Minister went on to say, in effect, "These reductions of course, are worrying, but we need not pay too much attention to them because people are eating more fresh fruit. They can get these vitamins elsewhere." We 91 ought to have a closer look at that argument before we accept it.
I find from the most recent issue of the "Monthly Digest of Statistics" that, if we accept 100 in January, 1952, as the price of fresh vegetables and fruit, by April, 1955, that is in about three years, the price had gone up by 30 per cent. It seems to me that if the prices of fruit and vegetables are soaring, as they are doing and demonstrably have done during the last three years, it may well be the case that children are getting neither the fresh fruit nor the fruit juices through the welfare food services. I should like the Minister to pay atetntion to that and not to accept too readily the argument of the Minister of Health.
The monthly statistics also show that fish prices—they are lumped together with meat, bacon and ham—are up 20 per cent. since January, 1952. I do not know the overall consumption of fish in volume, but there is no doubt that the high prices indicated in the statistics must have a deterrent effect on overall consumption. As I have said, we are not objecting to the transfer of function to the local authority, but we are concerned with what the Government are doing to bring to the notice of the potential beneficiaries, the expectant mothers and the parents of children under five, the tremendous value of these welfare foods.
The health statistics of the country are something of which we can all be proud. I do not think that there is a country in the world which has health statistics that are comparable with ours. Welfare foods play a considerable part in ensuring a healthy nation, for healthy children almost automatically become healthy adults. If we cannot increase the consumption of these welfare foods, the Government will be doing a disservice to the nation. I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will say that the Government are doing all they can to publicise the vital need for parents to obtain these welfare foods for their children and to uplift the figures for the consumption of these foods, which I think must be going down in Scotland just as they are in England.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I do not propose to detain the House for very long, but when this subject is before the House it gives a chance 92 for commenting on something which may be wrong with the scheme.
I have no blame for the Government, but I want them to do one or two things. It is good to know that the welfare services for mothers and children have been retained, but it is rather disappointing that mothers are not taking the advantage they might take of these good schemes. There are one or two reasons for that. I believe that in the beginning there was a very unfavourable Press for the scheme providing cod liver oil and orange juice. I do not think any unfavourable comment could be made about National Dried Milk, which is an inestimable boon to mothers and babies and is a very safe food.
When the Labour Party were in power, time and again I read sarcastic comments about orange juice. Such comments caused mothers to think that there was not much value in orange juice and to turn to orangeade which, in fact, does not contain any orange at all if it is labelled "orangeade." If one has studied the marketing, labelling and advertising of food, one finds that that is so, whereas the orange juice is made from oranges. A more important reason why mothers are not taking advantage of the scheme is that recently orange juice has become rather inaccessible. Due to the closing of certain food offices, distribution has fallen off and it is more difficult for mothers to obtain it.
To overcome that difficulty local authorities have agreed to help. Orange juice is readily available at clinics and some local authorities go even further by making supplies available to doctors. A great many general practitioners in Scotland have introduced a very good idea. They have a clinic for mothers and children one day each week. That has the effect of causing fewer mothers and children to attend ordinary surgeries in the mornings and evenings. Such a scheme is very greatly appreciated. In some cases local authorities provide the services of a midwife at these clinics.
It would be possible to have welfare foods distributed by this means, but as some local authorities appoint one doctor only, some ill-feeling is caused in the profession. If on a council estate there are three doctors, each running a clinic for mothers and children, why could they not all be supplied with the 93 welfare foods? At present I believe only one practitioner is chosen to do this work. In such cases he is given a great advantage in recruiting patients to his list. His list is apt to become very large, to the detriment of other doctors. It would be a very good thing if in places where doctors are running clinics they all had the opportunity of distributing welfare foods.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)
I am sure the House is very grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) and the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) for concentrating our attention for a little time on welfare foods. I will do as the hon. Member for Fife, West asked me—take a closer look at the figures—and, to be as helpful as possible, I will look at each figure in brief detail.
In Scotland, we are not worried about the uptake of milk. The figure is fairly constant, about 97 per cent. of entitlement, that is 97 per cent. of the milk available in the scheme is taken up by those entitled to it.
§ Mr. Browne
That is the latest figure, and that 97 per cent. covers liquid milk and National dried milk and the proportions between the two remain fairly constant.
The other welfare foods provide some interesting statistics. The most telling statistics are in terms of the percentage of total entitlement actually taken up by the beneficiaries. These figures help us to relate the national trend—about which the hon. Member for Fife, West was quite rightly worried—the national trend in the popularity of the foods with the fact that their distribution has passed from the Ministry of Food to local authorities. In the case of cod liver oil, in the four half years starting January,, 1953, and ending in December, 1954, the take-up was 22.1 per cent., 20.1 per cent., 19.7 per cent. and 19 per cent. We have to consider where the local authorities took over in that period. Before they took over, that is under the Ministry of Food, the percentages were 22.1, 20.1, and 19.7; under the local authorities the 94 figure was 19 per cent., only .7 per cent. of a drop in a steady fall over two years. Local authorities have handled this matter for only a short time, and we must also compare the first three months of the present year—the latest figures—with the first quarters of 1954 and of 1953. In 1953, in the first quarter the take-up was 24.5 per cent. and in the first quarter of 1954 it was 22.3 per cent., a drop of 2.2 per cent. In the first quarter of this year under the local authorities it was 22.5 per cent., an increase of .2 per cent. There is a slight increase—a recovery in cod liver oil under local authority management this year.
The same movement is seen in the figures for orange juice, where the recovery in the first quarter of this year was even more marked. In the first quarter of 1953 the percentage was 22.4 per cent., in the first quarter of 1954 20.6 per cent., which was 1.8 per cent. down, and in the first quarter of 1955 it was up to 22.1 per cent. That was 1.5 per cent. up and the 1953 figure was nearly reached. There has been no recovery under local authority management for vitamin tablets, but the rate of decrease appears to have been markedly reduced. Here the figure for the first quarter in 1953 was 28.3 per cent. In 1954 it was very much down, to 24.6 per cent.—3.7 per cent. down—but in the first quarter of this year it was only 1.6 per cent. down on the first quarter for 1954, this year's figure being 23 per cent.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us under which local authorities the figures are down and under which they are up? The figure which he has given will be an average, and I assume that it will not be the same for all local authorities.
§ Mr. Browne
I have looked at that. It would be too difficult and complicated to try to give a reply now.
It would certainly be wrong for this House to suggest that the transfer of distribution to local authorities has hastened the trend towards unpopularity. Rather, as I have pointed out, in the case of orange juice and cod liver oil, the reverse seems to be the case on the very limited figures before us. We must remember that these figures have not been listed long enough for us to draw very accurate conclusions.
95 What are we going to do about it? The local authorities must be scrutinising these figures with great interest. They will be invited to help the Department in undertaking an inquiry into uptake in the areas of individual authorities, to see if any explanation emerges of marked differences between areas of different types, or whether the effect of different methods of distribution can be discerned.
Secondly—and this is the point raised by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, who made helpful suggestions and criticisms—the local authorities will be invited to look critically at the spread and availability of their distribution centres to see that these are thoroughly well known in the area, and to undertake other forms of publicity to ensure that the benefits and advantages of welfare foods are brought before the public generally and, in particular, before the mothers on whom, in the last resort, the success of the whole scheme depends.
The hon. Lady the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie gave welcome publicity to orange juice and drew the distinction from orangeade. We must be careful to see that all the avenues of publicity are examined. We are not complacent and not drawing conclusions yet. We are doing, and will do all that we can to publicise and improve the service.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)
I think that it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to say a few words about E10—Revolving Credit for Argentina. The presentation of this Estimate was foreshadowed by my predecessor in the statement which he made on 31st March, 1955, on the occasion of the signing of the last Trade and Payments Agreement with the Argentine.
Hon. Friends may recall that my right hon. Friend said:So far as payments are concerned, the new Agreement renews the credit and dollar point facilities which have been available since 1951 under the supplementary Protocols to the last Agreement.96 He went on to say:If the credit is drawn upon by the Argentine Government before the Supplementary Estimate has been approved by Parliament, the money required will be provided from the Civil Contingencies Fund."—[0FriciAL REPORT, 31st March, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 557.]This credit means that whenever the Argentine sterling balance with the Bank of England is insufficient to meet Argentine payments to the sterling area, the Argentine Government can make drawings up to £20 million. Any advances outstanding on 30th June, 1956, are to be repaid by the 31st December, 1956. If, on the other hand, the Argentine balance rises above £20 million, they have the right to convert the surplus into dollars, but there is very little chance that this latter right will in fact be exercised.
Similar facilities were granted, but not used, to the Protocol of 31st December, 1952, and on that occasion the necessary provision was made on the Foreign Office Grants and Services Vote. The United Kingdom has not extended such facilities to any other country, but Argentine regards such credit as normal overdraft facilities, and they have about 25 similar arrangements in other agreements with other countries, including Germany.
This Credit could not have been withheld on this occasion as part of a general agreement on trade and financial questions without adverse consequences for our exports and other general and trading relations between the two countries. I think that the House may like to know that to date the Argentine has drawn some £5 million against the credit.
The right hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards), who has just come into the Chamber, will know a great deal more than I do about the past history of these credits. The Argentine has drawn £5 million against this credit—£2 million on 31st May and £3 million on 4th July—and present expectations are that they will draw £10 million net during the current financial year. Drawings to date have been made from the Civil Contingencies Fund. As I have said, my right hon. Friend who is now Minister of Supply told the House that this would be the procedure if money was required before this Supplementary Estimate had been approved by Parliament.
97 I think that I should say a few words about the other financial provisions of this Agreement, because they are all bound up with this Supplementary Estimate of £10 million. The Argentine has committed itself to repay before 31st July, 1955, the sums due to sterling area holders of bonds of 4½ per cent. Province of Buenos Aires Loan, 1910, and, in addition, the Argentine has also promised to permitexceptionally and on a limited scalerenewal of financial remittances to the sterling area. A total of £11 million is to be allowed during the currency of the Agreement, first, in respect of pensions due to retired officials of railways, and, secondly, in respect of incomes from investments in Argentina, public or private securities, income derived from real property and income from banking or savings deposits. Transfers are being made in chronological order of the dates on which applications have been made to the Argentine Central Bank.
Finally, I should like to say a word about the trade which is bound up with this payments Agreement. As I expect the House is well aware, Argentina is a very bilaterally-minded country. A strict bilateral agreement would have been contrary to the general policy of Her Majesty's Government. Moreover, most of Argentina's exports to this country are now admitted on open licence, and trade in all of them has been returned to private hands. In order to meet Argentina's wishes, it was necessary to give broad estimates of the trade expected in each direction. These trade lists, which run for a year at a time, and have just been renewed to cover the second year of the Agreement, are, however, no more than estimates and there is no binding obligation on either side.
We are anxious to get away from this sort of Agreement as soon as we can, but this was the best we could do, having regard to Argentina's determined bilateralism. We are much encouraged by the recent move of her neighbour, Brazil, towards multilateral trade and payments, and we hope that this example will not be lost on Argentina.
In saying this, I have had necessarily to cover again some of the ground which my right hon. Friend, now the Minister of Supply, covered when he made his statement on 31st March this year, but 98 I hope the House will think that I have explained adequately the need for this Supplementary Estimate.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I rise only for a moment to say that I think that, so far as we are concerned, we can approve this Supplementary Estimate. It does, of course, flow directly from the Agreement or Protocol of 1951, which I negotiated after some considerable weeks of discussion. Although this credit arrangement has not been used hitherto, I am quite sure that it is a desirable feature in the payments agreement between our two countries.
I was glad to hear the Economic Secretary say that there was provision now for remittances in the case of the railway pensioners—a matter which caused me a good deal of trouble in my negotiations—and if that means that the flow of pensions is now once again properly resumed, I am quite sure that it is a very good thing. I am glad, too, that there is to be some remittance in respect of investments and the like. I should like to take this opportunity to say, Mr. Speaker, if I am in order, that Argentina obviously needs capital from outside for its proper development. But whether she gets it will depend in no small measure on how existing investors are treated. If Argentina wants more capital to come in, people here must feel that those who put money into Argentina in the past are being properly treated.
I do not think I should be in order in following the hon. Gentleman into any long discussion about the return to private trading. I hope things will work out all right, but I may perhaps be permitted to have doubt as to whether we are not paying much higher prices for our meat than we would have done. Certainly, we are paying much higher prices than the price at which I bought 200,000 tons. Times have changed. In general, however, the Estimate meets with no resistance on this side. We are very glad to see that the present Government are carrying on what was, I am sure, an excellent arrangement.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I wholly agree with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks regarding pensioners. The figure of £1½ million includes about £200,000 in respect of pensioners.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
is the Vote on Western European Union—Vote C7—to be moved by the Minister? If so, I will gladly follow him.
§ Mr. Speaker
It does not require to be moved. It is covered by the general Question which is before the House, That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ Mr. Robens
Merely as a matter of courtesy, I wondered whether the Joint Under-Secretary wished to speak first.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. H. Turton)
The normal practice on Report stage is for the Opposition to put the points and for me to answer.
§ Mr. Robens
Advances were made to me earlier that I might perhaps permit the Under-Secretary to say a word first, and I was prepared to do that. We are discussing Western European Union and the token payment of £10. This, of course, involves the new Treaty in relation to the change which took place with the Brussels Treaty, which was originally designedto take such steps as may be held necessary in the event of renewal by Germany of a policy of aggression.We have moved away from the Brussels Treaty, which was designed to contain Germany, to a new and wider Treaty designedto promote the unity and to encourage the progressive integration of Europe,in which Germany is included.
I appreciate that the £10 must be only a token. Obviously, at this stage the Government are not able to state what the total cost will be with the new commitments that have been undertaken. Certainly, we have within the Treaty the commitment of the four divisions permanently in Europe and the Second Tactical Air Force. No doubt, this would be carried on the Vote of another Ministry and is not open to us for discussion now.
I should, however, like to ask whether within the Treaty it is indicated that inspections in relation to the level of arms 100 are to be carried out by the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. That is my understanding. I should like to know who is to be responsible for the oversight of the position of Germany, who voluntarily undertook not to manufacture certain arms. Is it intended within the Union to have a special organisation or sub-committee which would be included in this Vote for that purpose, or is that also to be carried out by the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe? I presume that, in the annual report which will be made to the Assembly at Strasbourg, there will be a report by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe indicating from time to time the results of the inspections.
When the Treaty lays it down and when we now have a quite new department inasmuch as there is a Parliamentary Assembly, it surely must be the case that the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe will make a report in relation to the oversight of German arms and the level of arms for the other nations. I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to say whether I am correct.
I want to move from the military field, which we have discussed in the House on more than one occasion, to another aspect of the Treaty which, in my view, is an extremely important aspect. I refer to the economic, social and cultural collaboration between the nations. One of the objects of the treaty isto promote the unity and to encourage the progressive integration of Europe.Already there is on the Continent of Europe the Schuman Plan Assembly, which is designed to do the same thing. It is active at the moment with two commercial interests—coal and steel—and active steps are being taken to include other things within that field. What is the Government's intention in relation to carrying out that part of the Treaty to encourage the unity and progressive integration of Europe? Is it intended to do anything at all of a spectacular nature in that direction or do the Government intend to leave that with those European nations who are members of the Schuman Plan Community and to which we are attached by the new Treaty of Association?
It is quite important that we should know under what organisation the United Kingdom is to play the major part in 101 carrying out the Treaty or part of it in dealing with economic co-operation and European integration. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary had the opportunity of reading the article in "The Times" of 16th June by M. Jean Monnet. That most interesting article, dealing with this very matter, referred to the Messina Conference of the Foreign Ministers of the Coal and Steel Community countries, at which they undertook to examine and study what further steps might be taken in European integration and co-operation.
I should like to know what part the United Kingdom Government is to play. Will it use this opportunity, together with the Foreign Ministers of the Steel and Coal Community countries, to enter into studies with them? My assumption is that if there were to be an extension of the Steel and Coal Community, we should probably join in by a treaty of association, if not by full membership. Or is it the Government's intention that they themselves will now pursue studies to carry out the terms of the Treaty in relation to economic integration?
My understanding from the article in "The Times" is that the Foreign Ministers of the Coal and Steel Community countries are to study particularly transport, gas, electricity and the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. It is in this latter direction that the United Kingdom could play a very great part, but it cannot do so if the Foreign Ministers of the Steel and Coal Community countries only are concerned with this study. The real problem about Europe and atomic energy is that the countries have lagged behind through lack of finance, shortage of scientists and other reasons, and the United Kingdom is well in advance.
I believe that the United Kingdom must take a lead in this matter if it is to play any prominent part in European affairs, rather than simply to permit the European nations within the Steel and Coal Community to go on and lead the way and then for us to come dragging on at the end by a treaty of association. We have something to offer to the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. We have a good deal of know-how, a good deal of practical experience in the development of power stations powered by nuclear energy. 102 Within the terms of this agreement, therefore, there is an opportunity for the United Kingdom to make its presence felt in Europe, and perhaps to remove an existing feeling that the United Kingdom is rather dragging its feet on European integration.
It cannot be said at this stage that we have turned away from the idea of European integration, because we have signed our names to the Treaty, one of whose principal Clauses is European integration. It cannot even be said that we have turned our backs on that ill-used phrase "supra-national authority," because in the military field we have done a good deal of supra-national work inasmuch as we have put our Forces under a Supreme Commander in Europe.
Therefore we ought to take the opportunity offered by the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes within this Treaty of telling the European countries that we will join them in experiments, in scientific research and in sharing our knowledge of this development. There can be do doubt that the Americans and the Russians have gone well ahead, largely because they have been able to develop on a continental scale. So if we could develop this energy on a continental European scale we might make much greater progress than if we stay outside and wait until the Foreign Ministers of the Schuman Plan assembly have made their studies, which are due to be reported upon by 1st October this year.
Could the Joint Under-Secretary of State tell us how the Government will implement this part of the Treaty dealing with the encouragement of the progressive integration of Europe and what they feel about this country giving Europe a lead in the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes? If this European market can be enlarged, it will mean for all of us in Europe a higher standard of living, because it represents a market of 200 million people which is waiting to be developed. In this we can play our part. We have indicated that we are not happy about a supra-national body, but we have accepted the principle of association with it. Therefore, the lead might be given by us in this development, where we are fairly expert, to a number of countries which cannot be said to be so at this stage but which have in them 103 many people who would gladly and willingly join in the work.
In agreeing to this token amount of £10, I ask the Government to consider giving such a lead to Europe so that Europeans may realise that the United Kingdom is taking a lead. It would also do what we have been trying to achieve in the military field, bring Western Germany within the Western European organisation, and the combination of that country's scientists and know-how with ours could result in nothing but good.
While building up Forces for dealing with the problems of Europe, we must not neglect economic development. If, as the result of our lead, we can lift up the standard of living in Europe and ensure full employment throughout this Continent, which is needed in so many of its countries, the United Kingdom will stand much higher in its counsels.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
It is agreeable to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) on a question of foreign policy after the new responsibilities that have been placed upon him on the Front Bench opposite. If this evening is a foretaste of what is to come, I am sure that the House will be happier and richer as a result of his new responsibilities, of which we are all aware.
I agree with all that the right hon. Gentleman has said and I particularly ask my right hon. Friend to pay attention to the question of what chosen instruments are to be used for carrying out the duties which we have accepted under the Western European Union Treaty. But we do not want to think that, because we have accepted once again the need for integrating and co-ordinating the economic affairs and the cultural affairs of Europe, we need necessarily do that through the organs of Western European Union itself. There are plenty of organs ready to hand, and I am sure that we shall be fulfilling our obligations if we use the existing ones rather than if we create any more. If the opposite line is taken, which is to develop within Western European Union all the instruments for carrying out these tasks, it will not be a question of a token vote of £10 but of a much greater expenditure. I say this from the point of view 104 of the Western European Union Assembly of which I have had a short experience.
I am glad to know that, so far at any rate, there has not been that proliferation of committees in the Assembly which I feared. So far Western European Union has restricted itself to two committees of the Assembly, one dealing with the Saar and another, the General Affairs Committee, dealing with defence. That is right, because once there are committees in the Assembly dealing with economic affairs and once there are committees in the Assembly dealing with, cultural affairs, this will not only be duplicating the work of the European Coal and Steel Community and O.E.E.C. but also of the Council of Europe. And not only will it duplicate the work, but it is liable to be in opposition and hostility with the work which those bodies are already performing.
Therefore I join with the right hon. Gentleman in urging my right hon. Friend to see that Western European Union fulfils these tasks through other channels and does not set up channels of its own for this purpose. Otherwise the cost will become enormous, the position will become ridiculous, and the countries that on economic and cultural grounds should be within Europe on those different functional bases, will find themselves outside, since Western European Union is restricted to only seven nations.
For all those reasons, I hope that my right hon. Friend will see that Western European Union sticks to its last, which is primarily one of defence, and that the other obligations in the Treaty into which we have entered are pushed ahead through the other organisations which already exist and of which Europe is proud.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am sure that the House will forgive me if I do not follow the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) on a subject which has been so adequately dealt with both by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and by himself. Most of us agree with the point of view which they put forward and it could not be more suitably dealt with.
I want to speak upon one of the other Votes, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will realise that while 105 at times we may criticise, at others we are ready to give credit when a step is being taken in the direction which we are of opinion is the right one.
I should like to say for myself—and I think this goes also for the large number of people who are interested in the subject—that we are thankful to the Minister for having agreed to make a contribution under Item D.5 of this Vote, namely, a maximum contribution of £100,000. We who are interested in the subject hope it will be a definite contribution of £100,000, but I understand—perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—that this is a further contribution, and that £20,000 of the £100.000 is to be made conditional upon the total contribution, including that of the United Kingdom, reaching 3,250,000 dollars.
One can understand the difficulties of obtaining increased funds for work of this kind, and the extent to which it must be conditional on what other Governments are prepared to give. I think we would all feel happier if the Government had indicated that this is the first of a series of annual payments which it is their intention to make until the High Commissioner's programme concludes in 1958 or 1959. Perhaps we may have some indication from the right hon. Gentleman on that point.
We feel that there is the most vital need to bring the present tragic situation of the refugees to a close with all possible speed, and I think that we should make it clear to the whole world not only that we are benevolent well-wishers and supporters of the High Commissioner's programme, but that we will do everything that is in our power to bring it to a successful conclusion.
Some little time ago, together with representatives of other organisations interested in U.N.O., I signed (on behalf of the Jewish Board of Deputies of this country) a letter which appeared in "The Times," and I should like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are gratified by his prompt and considerate response to the appeal which was made there. The refugee problem is a very poignant subject. Those of us who have had anything at all to do with the question of refugees who had to flee from oppression and persecution know very well that the mere wording of any state- 106 ment, even of a statement of the nature of that to which I am referring here, cannot possibly in any way express what is behind the whole subject.
When we talk, as we do here, about a fund which is to—… finance measures to promote the integration of refugees into the economies of their countries of asylum by means of vocational training, housing projects, settlement on the land, aids to students, social assistance, etc., in co-operation with the Governments directly concernedwe realise that there is a wealth of human kindness behind those purposes, and if they are exercised in a humane and generous spirit, I think that not only shall we be gratified, but the world as a whole will thank us for the part that we have played in this very important mission.
I hope that the Minister will view the position in regard to the remainder of the work to be done in that light. The High Commissioner has a tremendously difficult job and any help for which he has asked should be readily given.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
If I may, for a moment or two, follow the observations of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), I should like to say that we all know how deeply sincere is his interest in the plight of Jewish refugees. Certainly, anything that I propose to say does not mean to imply that I am not sympathetic to the point of view which the hon. Gentleman has put.
I am sure, however, that he will understand that my first interest in the matter of refugees has always been in those unfortunate Arab refugees who remain in the Middle East as a result of the establishment of the State of Israel. I think I am right in saying—perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to confirm it—that the High Commissioner for Refugees is not directly responsible for them—that that is a matter much more for U.N.W.R.A. than for the High Commissioner for Refugees.
My only comment is that I feel that of all the refugees in the world today there are none for whom this country has, or ought to have, a greater responsibility than these people, because it was as a result of a decision taken on behalf of this country as a whole that this position 107 arose. I do not propose to pursue that subject any further today, which may not be the occasion for it, and the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West and I have crossed verbal swords on this subject before. Whenever we have the opportunity, I think we ought to remind ourselves of the enormous responsibilities which this country has in solving this apparently insoluble problem of the refugees.
§ Mr. Janner
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will readily appreciate that I fully appreciate his particular interest. It is a question of the method of approach, and I think we are in agreement on that.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman was unsympathetic to the plight of refugees, whether Jewish or of any other race. All I am trying to do is to ask the hon. Gentleman to give me the same consideration as I am trying to give to him in acknowledging his interest in the Jewish refugees. I assure him that my interest is just as sincere, and, if anything, slightly stronger in favour of the Arabs.
I should like to return to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), and to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) in congratulating him on his preselection. I would remind him, however, that if we wish to make progress, preselection also pre-supposes a clutch, and the important thing is to have a clutch on the problems that we have to tackle.
My own belief is that some of his remarks were harking back to the days when E.D.C. was the policy rather than W.E.U. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman was harking back to the days when federalism was in the air, when we really did look forward to economic and political federation. In fact, that was the policy being pursued by the European countries as well as ourselves. My feeling is that we must never forget what happened last August and why it happened, and, in particular, we must never forget what M. Mendes-France had to say regarding the dangers of economic federation in Europe.
Today, knowing that the talks at the summit have been started, when I look across at what Disraeli called the mountain opposite, where we now see wide 108 open spaces, I feel that we must be careful in what we say this afternoon. The eyes of the world are on the summit talks, and it would be a tragedy if any words uttered here led to any more difficulties than those engaged in these talks at the summit are bound to experience anyway.
I believe that it would be the greatest mistake if we followed too rigidly what the right hon. Member for Blyth said, although I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen that it is refreshing to hear anyone in the House, and particularly from the Front Bench opposite, suggest that we should now take a lead in Europe. I have always been in favour of doing that, but the important consideration is the form which that lead takes.
My belief is that Disraeli was right when he said that if we destroy the traditional influences in Europe we shall leave in their wake something which is bound to cause more confusion rather than bring about more stability. It has been that, all along, that has worried me most about the attempts, particularly of the United States, made in the past to federate Europe, because I do not think that the United States understands, in the same way as we do, and with the experience which we have had of Europe over the centuries, the traditional differences that exist in Europe, compared with the United States.
Of all the things which seem to me to have impeded world peace up to now, the chief one has been the attempt to foist on the free world one economic system, rather than to allow each State to do what it thinks best in its own economic interests. Of all the problems which confront Europe, this is one to which I hope W.E.U. will give attention if it is to consider the economics of Europe. If we are to solve the economics of Europe the first problem we must tackle is how to cope with the situation in which one great nation of the free world is the supreme creditor nation and most of the others are debtor nations.
I do not believe that that problem can be solved by forcing non-discrimination on Europe. If Western European Union has been set up to consider the economics of Europe as well as the defence of Europe, and to try to get the economics of the European countries on to a really firm basis, I am certain that the hope 109 of achieving that does not lie through the policy of non-discrimination which we have been compelled to follow force majeure but rather in restoring to the countries of Europe the right to discriminate.
What is more, I believe that this problem does not lie only West of the Iron Curtain. I do not think that this is a question concerning us alone. This is a question of economic survival, and I certainly agree with what the right hon. Member for Blyth said about that. If we are to get a stable Europe we must consider the economics alone with the defence of Europe. We cannot hope to get a stable defence if our economics are shaky. It is clear that not enough attention has been given to that in preparing for what is now going on at Geneva.
I hope that before the Geneva Conference is over we shall see a greater realisation of the fact that it is not armaments, not ideologies, not party politics alone, not such problems as the reunification of Germany alone, that really matter today. It is the problem of affording a way to every country to have an economy which suits its own interests without being antagonistic to those of others.
We have been in a strait-jacket of indebtedness at the mercy of the greatest creditor nation, and that goes for all European countries. I do not believe that that state of affairs can continue for much longer, because in pursuing that policy we are undermining our own ability to make ourselves once again a creditor nation. That remark applies to other countries, too.
Of all the big problems which face Europe—and I am sorry if I am treading on the boundaries of order—none of the free world has yet faced properly the question, "What is to be the ultimate measure of German corn petition and what effect will that have on Western European Union and on the economies of the free world?" With those questions, I think that I had better conclude before I take the debate further than you, Mr. Speaker, would wish.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. H. Turton)
First, may I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) on his shadowed eminence and 110 also on the way in which he started the debate? I am sorry if there was any misunderstanding at the beginning, but the procedure followed is the normal one on Report.
I will try to answer the questions which he and other hon. Members put. The right hon. Gentleman's first question dealt with the control of arms. He asked how was inspection to be carried out, what part of Western European Union would deal with it, and to whom would reports be sent. The Agency for the Control of Armaments will deal with the Protocol in the Paris Agreements. The Agency, which consists of a director and an international staff, will be responsible for ensuring that the undertakings given by the member countries on the limitation and control of their armaments on the mainland of Europe are observed.
It will receive for this purpose statistical and budgetary information, and it will carry out test checks, visits and inspections on the territories of the countries concerned. The headquarters of the Agency will be in Paris. The Agency will make periodic reports to the Council of Western European Union. So far it has not been settled what will be the function of the Assembly in these matters. The Agency will make its reports to the Council of Ministers of Western European Union.
The second question was the one about economic integration, and the Coal and Steel Community, leading to Messina. My hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) also dealt with that side of Western European Union. It is the view of Her Majesty's Government that Western European Union should not attempt to take action which would duplicate, or cut across, the work of existing organisations. It is of vital importance that the House should recognise that fact.
This is a seven Power Union dealing primarily with the problem of France and Germany. It would be a great mistake and add to the complication, and indeed to international expense, if we tried to duplicate it. This is primarily a defence organisation. It has no powers for economic integration. That is my answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). I find it rather difficult to give him a fuller answer than that, because he was so very near the "summit," and I am sure that the "summit" has nothing to 111 do with the debate. Western European Union has nothing to do with economic integration, and therefore I cannot deal with his question.
I want to correct one statement which my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen made, I am sure inadvertently. He said that as far as he knew, Western European Union would have only two committees, and he expressed pleasure at that. That statement is not quite true. There is the Agency for the Control of Armaments, and in addition there is the Standing Armaments Committee. Further, Western European Union will take over the committees of the Brussels Treaty Organisation—the Social Committee, the Cultural Committee, the Public Health Committee and the Committee on Rehabilitation and Resettlement of the Disabled. They are all very important committees.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
Would not it be much better if those functions were transferred to a wider assembly, because they are all functions which deal with many more than the seven nations concerned? Social, cultural and economic matters, concern ten or even fifteen nations in Europe, and not merely the seven. It is purely historical accident that they have got tied up now with the limited defence commitments of the seven.
§ Mr. Turton
Although it is a pure historical accident, my hon. Friend must realise that they are at the moment a part of the Brussels Treaty Organisation and as such they are continuing their valuable work in Western European Union. Whether we can give them new fathers and mothers later is a matter primarily for members of the Western European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth asked about the extension of the Coal and Steel Community. That could not, as I envisage it, come under Western European Union. I refer him to the exchange of correspondence, which was published only recently, and in particular to the final letter from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, dated 1st July, in which we said that we should be very glad to take part in the studies. We were very anxious that due account should be taken of the functions of existing organisations such as O.E.E.C., and 112 we should be happy to examine, without prior commitment and on their merits, the many problems likely to emerge from the studies. It is not a function of Western European Union, but I thought that I would remind him of that White Paper so recently published, which sets out our aim to co-operate in these studies.
The next point about which the right hon. Gentleman asked me related to the question of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. I say again that it would be a great mistake to limit that to this seven-Power organisation, especially in view of the Eisenhower plan for the peaceful uses of atomic energy. He can rest assured that the Government have taken a leading part in this matter of the peaceful use of atomic energy and will continue to play their part, but not in connection with Western European Union.
I think those are all the questions asked of me about Western European Union, and I wish now to turn to the questions about the provision for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' plan which were raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) and about which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely also spoke. In answer to my hon. and gallant Friend, I would say that this has nothing to do with Arab refugees who are assisted by a different fund to which we have made a considerable contribution.
This is a new fund. It was started only on 1st January of this year, and it succeeds the United Nations Refugee Emergency Fund, as a result of the decision of the United Nations General Assembly in October of last year. We are making a contribution of £100,000, which is described as the maximum. Of this amount, £80,000 will be made available outright, and the remaining £20,000 will be paid, if the total of the contributions to the fund, including the contributions of the United Kingdom, reach 3¼ million dollars.
It may interest the House to know that, so far, other Governments have pledged themselves to contribute a total of 770,000 dollars to the Fund. I understand that in the United States Congressional approval is being asked for a contribution of 1,400,000 dollars which will probably be conditional on the other Governments subscribing the remaining 113 two-thirds of the 1955 target figure of 4,200,000 dollars. We know what good work was done by the preceding Fund and the good work that will be done by this Fund, and we are, therefore, anxious to give it a good start. But the hon. Gentleman must not expect me to give any forecast of what we shall do in future years. Let us see how the High Commissioner's plan for 1955 goes forward.
It is a plan to provide for the expenditure of 4,200,000 dollars, of which 1 million will be for emergency assistance. By this contribution we have given a lead to the other countries which I am glad to see that they are following. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West for the kind things he said about the decision of the Government in this matter.
§ Mr. Robens
Would the hon. Gentleman clear up one point for me? Despite the fact that within the Paris Treaty there is a clear indication that one of its principles is the pursuit of the economic integration of Europe, I gather from him that it is not proposed to develop this Treaty Organisation for that purpose, but to use whatever existing organisation there may be. Do I, therefore, understand that in relation to the studies being undertaken by the Foreign Ministers in the Coal and Steel Community Assembly, which includes the peaceful development of atomic energy for Europe, we are to be invited to take part in those studies and shall be taking part; or is it merely that we have exchanged letters undertaking that we shall be willing to do so, if we are invited?
Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that we are not to make a special effort about the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes within Europe itself; that we are, in the present circumstances, leaving the matter to world-wide development based on the declaration of the United Nations?
§ Mr. Turton
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear, I was under the impression that I had. I said that Western European Union is limited to the seven Powers. It is primarily a defence organisation and has as its main purpose to try to bring France and Germany together. For that side of the work no doubt we have to see that France and Germany work together 114 economically as well as for defence purposes. But it is vitally important that it should not duplicate the work of existing organisations. Certainly, we shall go forward with the atoms for peace plan in Europe, but not by means of Western European Union.
The Messina Powers did not commit themselves to a definite plan. They suggested that studies should be undertaken to make research into the future. By our letter of 1st July, we accepted an invitation to take part in those studies. At the same time, we gave a warning that we must not in this case overlap the work of O.E.E.C. I think that answers the right hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I think that this Supplementary Estimate merits a few words from someone on the Government Front Bench. There is a mistaken idea, which is widespread as well as mistaken, that apart from exercising their powers of disputation on matters of football, politics and religion, the Scots have few or no interests—apart from a propensity for haggis and whisky and maybe tossing the caber on the odd afternoon.
It is strange that the Scottish Department should have managed to persuade the Treasury to spend £25,000 on buying a picture, and not a picture of a Highland scene. The purchase is a picture by Velasquez of an old woman cooking eggs. I wish to know who selected this picture, and why. I am wondering whether it was because there was some fellow-feeling between the present occupants of the Scottish Office and Diego de Silva Velasquez, who was himself a bit of a monopolist. It may be that, because of that, the occupants of the Scottish Office thought, "We had better have an example of this fellow's work to hang in the National Gallery of Scotland." I believe that when Velasquez became the court painter to Philip IV of Spain, a post which he retained for 115 thirty-seven years, he insisted that all other portraits of the King should be withdrawn and that he, and he alone, should paint the King's portrait.
Or was it a matter of the historic interest of this subject—the old woman cooking eggs? Notice the plural—"eggs." I do not think that very many old-age pensioners in Scotland were cooking eggs for themselves last Sunday. It may be that the purpose of the Government is to distribute a copy of this painting, if not the original, in the headquarters of the Old-Age Pensioners' Association—with which the Joint Under-Secretary had a certain connection in the past—as an illustration of a passing aspect of Scottish social life, even if it is by a Spanish painter.
I believe that the painting is in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. The Joint Under-Secretary, who represents a Glasgow constituency, will know that very few Scots people go to Edinburgh. It may therefore be that this picture is for the delectation of foreign visitors going to Edinburgh for the Festival, rather than for the Scots. Is there any suggestion that the picture will be sent round to other parts of Scotland, to let the people see what they have had to pay £25,000 for?
At any rate, I congratulate the Scottish Office on having been able to secure this £25,000 from the Treasury. We have been trying to get money from the Treasury for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, in respect of the floods last winter, and for many other things. I understand that last winter Lord Strathclyde was in the North of Scotland telling the people that they could not have money to clear away the snow, and yet, somehow or other, the Scottish Office has managed to get £25,000, which is quite a lot of money to a Scotsman—
§ Mr. Speaker
if the hon. Member keeps to the £25,000 he will remain in order. I agree with him about that. But he cannot roam over the whole field of possible alternative Government expenditure.
§ Mr. Ross
That is the point. I am sticking to the £25,000. If the Government had stuck to their original Estimate they would not have been asking for this sum.
116 I am performing my responsible duty as a Member of the House of Commons in watching over the Government's additional expenditure, and I am pointing out that so many claims upon the Government have been resisted and yet, in this case, the Scottish Office has been able to obtain £25,000 for the purchase of a work by this old Spanish master. We in Scotland are very much in love with art and with the Old Masters. If the picture had been one of the other works of Velasquez, such as "The Toilet of Venus"—which I believe is not very far from here—I should have been better satisfied, but this is a commonplace picture, painted in the earlier Velasquez period.
I congratulate the Scottish Office, at this time of continued contemplation of things which are much more material—such as the cost of food, milk, and all the other things about which we have heard complaints today—upon being able to step outside such considerations and go in for the bright aspects of culture. I should like to know who got this money from the Treasury. There is a rumour that the true function of Lord Strathclyde, the Minister of State, is the seeking out of art treasures for the Scottish Department to purchase for the Scottish Gallery.
I should like to know whether the exhibition will be confined to Edinburgh, or will travel round the country. I should also like to know whether the Scottish Office has any other purchases in mind and, if so, whether it will reveal to back benchers how this money is obtained from the Treasury—because that is a secret which we are very anxious to learn.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has done a service to the House and to Scotland by drawing attention to this item, which had escaped my notice. We certainly deserve a very full explanation of the way in which the Scottish Office managed to secure the incredible sum of £25,000 to enable it to place this picture in the Scottish National Gallery. The explanation surely is not that it wished to convince the people of Scotland that the typical Scottish old-age pensioner spends her time cooking eggs. If that is the explanation, the expenditure 117 of this sum is not justified; we are imposing upon the credulity of foreigners visiting Edinburgh. This picture will give quite a wrong conception of the average social life led by old women in Edinburgh to visitors from France, Holland, Germany and the United States. They will go away convinced, by a picture painted by Velasquez many hundreds of years ago, that Scottish old-age pensioners re still enjoying such a standard of life that they can afford to cook eggs.
I believe in the fine arts; it is not my business to criticise the Scottish Office about an item of this kind. I have no objection to money being spent upon paintings—even if they are remote Old Masters—if they convey a true impression of life in Scotland, but why does the Scottish Office concentrate upon Velasquez? Have we not already enough pictures by Velasquez in this country today? In the National Gallery there is a room full of his pictures. I am sure that it would be far more economical if the Velasquez Exhibition from the National Gallery were sent to Edinburgh and then around Scotland, instead of the Scottish Office coming forward with a bill for £25,000 for one picture by that painter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock referred to another picture by Velasquez—his picture of Venus. If that were sent to Edinburgh it would not be treated in the way the Suffragettes treated it when they tried to destroy it. It is a work of art.
I should like the Secretary of State to assure us that he is giving adequate encouragement to the younger artists of Scotland. Are the younger artists from Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Kirkintilloch or Edinburgh—who are longing to receive encouragement from the Government—going to be treated in the same generous way as the dead Velasquez? Would it not have been better if this £25,000 had been spent on some of the works of the promising young students of the Edinburgh and Glasgow schools of art? It is all very well to worship the past; that is what hon. Members opposite are here for. I understand that their idea of a great picture is something which is very old. They worship ancient institutions, even in the realms of art. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that he is justified in asking the House for this £25,000? Under what circumstances did he convince the 118 Treasury that this expenditure was justified?
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)
I hope to convince the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that the Treasury and the Scottish Office are making an investment in treasure, education and artistic inspiration for our young painters, many of whom, unlike the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will not prefer the Toilet of Venus to the picture of an old woman cooking eggs.
The questions asked by the hon. Gentleman have already been asked and partly answered. The circumstances in which it was decided to purchase the Velasquez for the National Gallery of Scotland were announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a Written Answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) on 26th April, 1955. This reply said:The Trustees of the National Gallery of Scotland learned last month that Sir Francis Cook and the Trustees of the Cook Collection were willing to sell the Velasquez painting 'The Old Woman,' which forms part of that collection. It was recognised that it was of the highest national importance that this picture, which is one of the very few paintings by Velasquez still in private ownership, should remain in this country, and the Trustees accordingly decided to seek Exchequer help towards its purchase.The answer went on:The price of the picture is £57,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed subject to the approval of Parliament, to make an Exchequer grant of £25,000 towards this sum. The National Art Collections Fund have generously offered to contribute £5,000, and the remainder will be contributed by the Trustees from their own resources. A Supplementary Estimate will be laid before the House as SOCHI as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1955; Vol. 540, c. 55.]We are now debating the Report of that Supplementary Estimate. The Velasquez is probably the most important painting yet purchased by the National Gallery of Scotland and will take its place among the four or five most outstanding works in the collection. The Spanish School is at present represented by paintings by El Greco, Zurbaran and Goya, but the gallery did not previously have a Velasquez.
The painting belongs to the years 1620–1622, immediately before Velasquez 119 left Seville to settle in Madrid. It represents the interior of a kitchen in which an old woman is sitting, holding over a stove a pan in which eggs are cooking. My brief does not say how many eggs there are. Before the painting passed into the Cook Collection it belonged to Sir Charles Robinson.
The export of works of this nature from Spain is now forbidden, and this seemed to be the last foreseeable opportunity of securing for Scotland a worthy work by Velasquez. At present no work by Velasquez is on public view in this country outside London. I am sure hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House will be grateful to the National Art Collections Fund for their contribution of £5,000, which is a generous one in view of the comparatively few contributing members of the Fund domiciled in Scotland.
This is the first occasion on which the National Gallery has received a special grant from the Exchequer. Last year, the National Museum of Antiquities received a grant of £8,000 towards the acquisition of the Galloway Mazer, of which the purchase price was £11,550, and the Royal Scottish Museum received a grant of £6,885 towards the acquisition of the Lennoxlove Silver, the purchase price of which was £17,000.
I hope, after that explanation, that the hon. Member will realise, as I said before, that this is an investment in treasure, education and artistic inspiration.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The House is in a very generous and quietly agreeable mood today. We have already voted the Government about £11 million, to be added to all that was originally voted earlier in the year. Now we are dealing with the salaries of dentists.
At the end of last week the English and Welsh dentists were voted a figure of just over £3 million. Now the Scottish dentists get their share, which is 120 about £360,000. To what amount will that bring the average salary of the Scottish dentist? Secondly, how much does this addition mean per dentist? I presume that the Minister, in giving us this information, will tell us how many dentists there are.
One of the reasons given by the Government in 1952, when introducing the charges for dental treatment, was that the consequent reduction in the income of dentists would lead to a switch of dentists to school dental service. The number of school dental people increased by eleven last year, from 160 to 171. What will the result be if we pass the proposed Supplementary Estimate, increasing salaries by £360,000 for the general practitioner dentist of Scotland? What effect will it have on the school dental service?
No one can say that the school dental service is adequate today. There are counties in Scotland that have no school dental officer at all. Undoubtedly, there is no room for complacency. I am concerned about this matter. I do not begrudge dentists their extra salary so long as they do not begrudge me mine. What will be the effect if there is no change in the position of these dentists in the school dental service?
It is not as though the dentists had a hard time last year. I find that although the number of courses done by dentists outside the service went up by 7 per cent., dental earnings rose from £2,954,000 to £3,199,000. In other words, every person in Scotland, man, woman and child, cost us 12s. 6d. last year in payment to the dentist. The year before is was only 11s. The dentists' earnings increased by 8 per cent. to just under £250,000. Now we are giving them, by this additional Supplementary Estimate, an 8 per cent. increase in their earnings.
It requires justification, the kind of justification we had the other day from the Minister of Health, who said that this was a matter of arrangement. The dentists' scale of fees, he said, had been cut by 10 per cent. and now a new scale of charges was to be negotiated: it was not complete yet, and meanwhile we had quickly to produce the new scales.
What is the basis of this increase of £360,000? Is it a recognition that when the original cut was made in dentists' earnings it was an injustice? Is it once again recognised that, despite all their 121 promises, the present Government have failed to keep down the cost of living, which has been causing some bother even among the professional classes; and that in order to do justice the Government have had to meet the claims of dentists by giving them this money? It will bring the total given to dentists all over the country to nearly £3½ million.
I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland would have been re-elected to the House if he had said in his election address that one of the first things he would do when he got back to Westminster would be to pilot through the House of Commons a Supplementary Estimate giving dentists an extra £3½ million, at the same time as he was resisting demands for an increase for the blind people, the 10s. widows and others. I think it will require a considerable amount of conviction and persuasive oratory on the part of the Joint Under-Secretary of State to convince us that he is doing the right thing, when he failed to let the people of Scotland know only a few months ago that this was in the mind of the Government.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has once again done a service to the House and to Scotland in calling attention to the Supplementary Estimate, because if any Estimate deserves to be thoroughly scrutinised it is this one, approval of which the Joint Under-Secretary hoped to get very quietly in a half-empty House. Yet we know that some of these Estimates deserve a great deal of scrutiny, and those of us who are used to the careful ways of Scottish local authorities in examining in detail every estimate of this kind to see what burden is to fall on the taxpayer or the ratepayer would be failing in our duty if we did not require a statement from the Minister about such an Estimate as this. There is nothing which keeps a Department and its Minister on their toes more than the knowledge that any of what they think are insignificant Estimates might be questioned, and that an account might have to be given of them in the House of Commons.
I should like to ask a question about the sum to be given to the dentists. For example, when the dentist sends in his bill, does it include the cost of equipment? During the Election my attention 122 was drawn to the fact that one of the greatest monopolies was the apparatus necessary for the extraction of teeth. The Joint Under-Secretary has just been telling us about the purchase of a picture by Velasquez which depicts an old woman frying eggs. It may well be that he will have to come here again to justify the purchase of a picture by Velasquez showing the extraction of teeth.
What steps have been taken to get this Estimate reduced? Can the hon. Member deny that the chair used by the dentist, and the forceps and the various other instruments employed in modern dentistry, are price-controlled by a gigantic monopoly? If he were prepared to reduce the price of material used in the dental service, would the amount he is asking for in the Supplementary Estimate be so large? I think we are entitled to have reassurances on these points.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)
I am very glad to be able to reply to the debate on this Supplementary Estimate, which does for Scotland what the National Health Service Estimate. England and Wales, Class V, Vote 5, did for England and Wales; that is to say, it restores the 10 per cent. cut in the dentists' fees as from 1st May, 1955, which is an eleven-month period, at a net cost of £338,500. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) did not seem to be quite sure whether he approved or disapproved. He said he did not mind the dentists getting more, and then he began to imply that he did not want the dentists to get what we believe is a square deal.
§ Mr. Browne
If the hon. Gentleman had asked me to speak first, or had indicated that he would like to hear what I had to say, I should have done as he requested.
The cut has been restored as a result of United Kingdom negotiations carried on by the Health Departments with the 123 British Dental Association and the increased scales were, therefore, a matter for arrangement. If there was an injustice—and I am not going to argue that point—careful examination for a long period, which started before the last Election, showed that the restoration of the cut was justified.
The answer to the specific question asked by the hon. Member is that there are about 1,175 dentists in the general dental service, and the average increase in their remuneration will amount to about £350 each. We do not expect that there will be any adverse effect on the school dental service because of this comparatively small increase in the salaries of those in the general dental service.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am concerned about this Vote. I recognise that perhaps 40 or 50 years ago both the motor industry and the watchmaking industry required assistance, but that is not the case in 1955 when fantastic profits are being made by them, and we know that there is a record output in the motor industry. Yet we are asked to give assistance amounting to £28,500 to the motor-car industry and £23,000 to the watchmaking industry.
What in 1955 justifies such substantial grants to those industries? Surely they are very prosperous and it is not necessary to make annual grants to them. Not only that, but their manufacturing plant as been derated. What sort of Alice-in-Wonderland business is this? The Government are derating these industries to encourage them to develop, and at the same time are giving the taxpayers' money in the form of subsidy to firms which are enjoying outstanding prosperity.
There are firms in this country which are really American firms engaged in the manufacture of watches. Do they get any of this grant? I believe that there are also subsidiary companies of Continental firms, and I am wondering if they get any of this grant, or is it confined entirely to purely British firms?
124 In my constituency there is an industry which needs all the help it can get, and certainly to a far greater extent than either of the two industries that I have mentioned. I refer to the shipbuilding industry. I am sure we in Scotland would rather see Government action about shipbuilding than about watchmaking or motor manufacturing. I appreciate that I cannot mention shipbuilding in the context of this Vote, but I am concerned when I see that the watchmaking industry is given this grant in connection with:… acquisition of essential plant to be leased on easy rental terms; the firms to whom such plant is leased are normally given the option to purchase it at the end of a term of years at the then fair market value.I wonder what that means. If a firm has been using these machines for 10 years on hire, and at the end of that period it can buy them at the then fair market value, could we be told what that value is? The machines have been depreciating during that time.
I have seen quite a lot of machines which have come from the Ministry of Supply and from the War Office and have been used for five or six years in a factory. At the end of the period of the Government control over the factory the machinery has been disposed of to the owners of the factory at a fair market price. Very often I have known such machinery to go for next to nothing. I have seen some good machine tools knocked down in 1945 and 1946 at fantastically low prices. Having devoted £23,000 per annum to the provision of these machines, apparently they can be sold for next to nothing because the taxpayer has paid for them.
If the Government acquire machines and let them out to the watch-making industry at a fair rental or on a kind of hire-purchase system, surely the machines should have been paid for after a certain period and there should be no cost to the taxpayer. But here machines are being provided by means of hire-purchase arrangements over a number of years, as a person might buy a television set, but it is costing us £23,000 to do it. To me that seems absolutely crazy in an industry which is so well established.
We then find this item in the Estimates:Assistance to the motor car industry: provision required to meet the cost of relief of purchase tax on certain racing cars.125 Why should there be relief of Purchase Tax on racing cars? I do not see how it can help the British motor industry at all. There have been several attempts by big motor firms in this country to produce a successful racing car and they have completely failed. I understand that a Mercedes-Benz design has won the British Grand Prix.
Then there is this item:Recovery and transport of scrap metal: provision required to meet the cost and transport of scrap recovery … £454,000.That is the cost to the taxpayer for recovering scrap for the steel industry. I admit that when the steel industry was nationalised it was all right to pay such a sum when the profits went to the Treasury, but the profits of the industry—some £61 million per annum—now go to the private shareholders. The taxpayer is still paying £454,000 to collect scrap for an industry the profits of which are now going to the shareholders of that industry. That is a shocking state of affairs.
There should be investigation into why £454,000 should be paid by a Government Department to acquire scrap for a private steel industry the profits of which are not recovered by the Government but go to the private shareholders. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will answer these very important questions and say why the taxpayer should be supporting industries which are more prosperous today than they have ever been before.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Donald Kaberry)
I think I can satisfy the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) on the three points which he has raised. With regard to the motor car industry and the sum of £28,500; it was decided in 1950 by the then Ministers that the production of racing cars should be encouraged to enhance the value and prestige of British cars and British engineering. It was thought wise to encourage improvements in the design of cars and it was decided to give this encouragement by relieving the cars of Purchase Tax.
It was found that this could be done only by refunding the tax after it had been paid. Therefore, this sum is to provide for the refund of the Purchase 126 Tax on certain specified kinds of racing cars. That is the intention of a policy which has been pursued since 1950. It is impossible to make a broad guess of the amount involved beforehand. Past experience has shown that it is very difficult indeed, and that it is better to treat the matter in this way by refunding the Purchase Tax when the actual amounts have, in fact, been ascertained.
As to the item, "Assistance to the watchmaking industry"; the withdrawal of commitments already undertaken would represent a major change in Government policy and a certain risk for the watchmaking industry. It would be interpreted as a breach of faith which might lead to the collapse of watchmaking in this country and to heavy losses of financial investment.
A brief history of the matter is that in 1945 there was a decision to spend by instalments £1 million—that was planned by the then caretaker Government—to provide for the assistance of the post-war commercial watchmaking industry. The revival of the industry was sponsored for strategic and economic reasons and the strategic importance of this particular industry has been recently emphasised.
These payments are required to reimburse two watchmaking companies and one jewel making company for their annual payments to the Swiss for the first year's lease of specialised machinery essential for these products. The other item is for the Crown's share of certain losses of a factory making medium-grade watches during the 12 month period beginning in August, 1954. The future protection of this industry in the face of foreign competition is one of the problems which need further consideration.
I hope I can satisfy the hon. Member effectively on the third point, especially as he represents a Scottish constituency. The sum to which he referred is the amount expended by the Board of Trade itself in the recovery and breakdown of ships which are handed over free of charge by the Admiralty and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for breaking up. The scrap is sold and shows a profit which will, in fact, be shown in due course as an extra receipt on the Ministry of Supply Vote. I think I can satisfy the hon. Member to this extent, that there will be an excess of credits over debits of some £263,000.
§ Mr. Kaberry
That is included in the item which still leaves a profit on the Ministry of Supply Vote.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
On a point of order. Are we going to deal with the Navy Supplementary Estimate?
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for War will be able to clear up one or two matters that arise from this unique, unprecedented Supplementary Estimate. In the first place, I should like to state the position as I believe it to be. No doubt the Under-Secretary will be able to tell me whether I have stated it correctly.
As I understand the matter, for a good many years the Army has been receiving from the German people a great many services and supplies which it needed for the troops in Germany. Consequently, no moneys had to be provided by Parliament for many of the things which our Forces in Germany consumed. In effect, they were able to take them in kind from the German people. Now, owing to political changes, that arrangement has come to an end, and it is therefore necessary for the Army to pay for the things which previously it received without paying. To do that, it must have money. That money is to come from the German Federal Government, in accordance with recent agreements, but annually we need Parliament's approval to ensure that the money granted by the West German Federal 128 Government can be applied to the purposes of the Army, and indeed of the other Services. I understand that that is how the Supplementary Estimate arises.
This reveals a surprising position which, as far as I can see, the House has permitted to exist for a good many years. I understand that in the case of the Army a matter of some £70 million a year is in question. That means that during the previous years, in addition to the sums voted to it by Parliament, the Army was able to obtain about £70 million worth of stuff from Germany which was not voted by Parliament and over which Parliament apparently had no control. It is very remarkable that we should have allowed the Executive to maintain Armed Forces partly out of money not approved by Parliament but raised from occupied territory.
If I remember correctly, that was what the Earl of Strafford endeavoured to do in the case of Ireland, and the Parliament of that day took a very displeased view of the matter. I hope, however, to hear from the Secretary of State for War or the Under-Secretary that the whole purpose of the Supplementary Estimate is to assure us that the highly unconstitutional situation which we have allowed to continue for a great many years has now come to an end. If I understand that that is what we are now doing, a sum of £55 million in this Estimate, which previously in effect was taken in kind from Germany, is now to be a money transaction and to receive the approval of Parliament.
As to the actual sums involved, there is one thing in the Explanation of the Estimate which at first sight is rather surprising. While Germany was under obligation to provide certain services for allied Armed Forces, the total amount that she might be required to supply was limited, according to the first paragraph of this Explanation, to £600 million a year. Under the recent agreements, the total sum is to be £270 million a year.
Why has it been possible to make that considerable reduction, or is it that the maximum figure of £600 million previously fixed was never anything like reached? At any rate, there seems to be a considerable step down from £600 million to £270 million, of which the share of the British Forces is £70 million. It would appear from the Estimate that 129 out of the £70 million the Army's share is £55 million. One would, of course, expect the greater part of it to go to the Army. I trust that the Under-Secretary will be able to say a few words about the general position and whether my interpretation of the nature of the Estimate is correct.
There are only one or two particular questions arising from the Supplementary Estimate which I should like to put. In relation to "Vote 4—Civilians," I take it that I am right in supposing that our Forces in Germany are to a very great extent dependent for their proper functioning on a large supply of German civilian labour. That was the position in the past and, as far as I can see, that is still the position.
I notice that in the same Vote, under Subheads, "F—Military schools and training establishments" and "G—Army educational establishments," there is an increase in the Estimate altogether of some £880,000. One may conclude from that that the sum of £880,000 is the amount to be spent by the Army in Germany on military schools, training establishments and Army educational establishments, but it would be interesting if the Under-Secretary took the opportunity to give us any further news which he may have about the progress of the provision of educational facilities for the children of armed personnel in Germany.
We have in the Supplementary Estimate the means whereby we can judge how much money is being spent in Germany on these two items. No doubt the Under-Secretary will remember the very interesting debate which we had on this subject a month or so ago, towards the conclusion of the last Parliament. The amount of information which was then forthcoming from the Government Front Bench was rather limited. The hon. Gentleman might take the opportunity of the debate on this Estimate to tell us whether he has now had time to consider the various suggestions which were then made from both sides of the House. I see that the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), who took a notable part in that debate, is present, and I trust that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us a little more and something a little more encouraging about this extremely important subject.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Bence
I want to ask some questions about this Supplementary Estimate. There seem to me to be some amazing figures in it. First, I notice that in "Vote 4—Civilians" there is a Subhead "H—R.A.S.C. and veterinary and remount establishments, &c." Presumably that has something to do with horses. Here, in 1955, we have an increase of £1,510,000 in expenditure for veterinary services connected with horses.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
It includes lorries for the R.A.S.C. as well as horses. I assure the hon. Member that over £1 million are not spent on horses.
§ Mr. Bence
I accept that explanation. It does not make my comparison as bad as it otherwise would have been.
I also notice that in respect of an item for "Miscellaneous educational and training charges" there has been an increase of only £10,000. "Rent of buildings" has risen from £2,296,000 to £6,760,000, an increase of £3,800,000. Does that mean that the War Office has taken over more buildings and, therefore, is having to pay more rent, or an increased rent to those who own the buildings?
§ Mr. Head
These are not actual increases, but a transference of the amounts the Germans were paying to help us, which appear as increases. In fact they are the sums which in the past were paid by the Germans and they are now put on this Vote so that they are under the control of Parliament. It is not an increase but is what has been happening in previous years and has to come on to this Vote.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I should be very much obliged to the Minister if he would give rather more detailed justification than he has given hitherto to convince the House that the increases on the last page of the supplementary Estimates are justified.
For example, we fine under Vote 9—"Miscellaneous Effective Services, A—Telegrams, Telephones and Postage" that the original estimate was £3,876,000, which has gone up to £5,666,000, an increase of £1,790,000. That seems an enormous sum to spend on telegrams, telephones and postage in occupied Germany, whoever is paying it. The Secretary of State for War is merely following the precedent of other Ministers. He thinks he can slip anything through because there is such a small House. I think it a great reflection on the Government that so few hon. Members supporting them think it necessary to come to the House when millions of pounds of taxpayers money are being voted in this way.
Apparently this procedure is to continue, and I want again to emphasise that it is exceedingly important that Supplementary Estimates should be very carefully scrutinised, especially when they come from the Service Departments. We grant an enormous amount to the War Office every year but, like Oliver Twist, it comes at the first opportunity to ask for more. This revised sum of £5,666,000 to be spent on telegrams, telephones and postage by the Army of Occupation in Germany is a staggering sum. We deserve some explanation of it.
§ Mr. Head
If the hon. Member would not think it discourteous for me to say so, I do not think he has read the introduction to the Estimates. This is not an increase but a transference of what has been spent in Germany. Very misleadingly, it is shown as an increase, but it is not an increase from the taxpayers' point of view or the point of view of anyone else. It is a transference of a sum of money to our Vote. I thought that explanation would help the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is a very inadequate explanation. I want to know why on page 6 of the Estimate it is very definitely stated as an increase of £1,790,000. If these Estimates are misleading, surely the Minister is responsible.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have read the introduction. I want to know why, after having written such a confusing introduction, the right hon. Gentleman makes it more confusing by the table of statistics on page 6. Surely the strategy of the War Office and the Army is complicated enough without completely misleading hon. Members on such facts as telegrams, telephones and postage.
The Secretary of State for War has not answered the point I made. It is why this large sum has to be paid. I know there is a question of transference from one authority in Germany to another, but there is an increase. At this point surely we are entitled to know something about why this enormous bill for telegrams, telephones and postage is submitted to the House in this Supplementary Estimate. I know that a very considerable case could be made that the whole of our military expenditure in Germany is enormous and that this increase further complicates it.
When an hon. Member asks innocently for an explanation of what is put down in black and white as an increase of £1,790,000 surely we are entitled to have an explanation of that increase. Surely there should have been a decrease. With the enormous amount of training in Germany and the organisation of new German divisions this postage bill should not have been incurred. I submit that the Secretary of State should give some indication to the House of why this enormous sum for postal services should be increased instead of decreased.
On Item B, I think we are entitled to an explanation of the phrase, "Higher formation training." What exactly does that mean? Why is there an increase in the item for higher formation training? In what way has the training been altered? Is the increase for higher formation training budgeted for because the Army has embarked on new tactical exercises as a result of the War Office discovering that there are such things as atom bombs in the world?
133 Those of us who are not experts on military strategy have tried to understand some of the explanations. There is a new hon. Member in the House who, I am sure, has not the ghost of an idea of why the War Office ask for £5,000 for higher formation training. What was the lower formation training? We have already had a statement from the Secretary of State that the latter part of the supplementary Estimate is grossly misleading. Apparently we have to stop at the introduction. Having read the introduction, we pass on to the statistics. Apparently, the Secretary of State for War wants us to stop at the first pages of the introduction, but that is not the way to scrutinise Army Estimates.
§ Mr. Head
It may be my fault, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman, if I may say so, is being at his best. He has entirely misunderstood the whole purpose of this Estimate. What has happened is that, during this period with which we are concerned, the Germans will be paying the same amount of money as they did last year for certain services, which the British Army in Germany receives; but instead of doing that without reference to Parliament, we have transferred that sum to the Army Estimates. The only way in which we can show it is by a token Vote of £10 and putting down the money which the Germans have paid as an increase. It is not an increase in expenditure. Our telephone bill has not gone up. It is merely transferring the money. The hon. Gentleman who has taken part for ten years in these debates with me is chasing a hare which I promise him is not a starter.
§ Mr. Hughes
If it is a hare, the Minister has not caught up with it. I am very accustomed to these dispersal tactics of the Minister retreating to a stronger position in the rear, which is not there. As Members of the House of Commons we are responsible to our constituents for the taxpayers' money, and when it is a figure of £5,666,000 which is presented to us, we are entitled to have some explanation of it.
I thought that I had left the telephone, but the right hon. Gentleman has brought me back to it. What I am seeking now is information about higher formation training.
134 There are miscellaneous educational and technical training charges which have apparently increased by £10,000. The total sum is £577,500. Then there is the compensation for losses, which comes to the rather large sum of £1,225,000. Surely £1,225,000 is not a trivial, insignificant sum. I remember when hon. Members opposite were in Opposition what a row they made about the groundnuts scheme in Africa. But here there are much larger sums very obscurely stated, and I submit that we are entitled to have some clear and definite explanation, rather than the offhand remarks which have been made by the Secretary of State for War.
I believe that he is making these offhand remarks simply because he does not understand his own Estimates. The Estimates are brought to the House of Commons for scrutiny and approval of hon. Members whose duty it is to protect the taxpayers of this country. There are no more wasteful, greedy, expensive and exorbitant Ministers than those who come along with these bills for Supplementary Estimates. I suggest that if the Secretary of State for War cannot give any coherent explanation at least the Under-Secretary should have an opportunity of explaining these items.
When we are told that there is a net increase in the total appropriations in aid of £55,219,935 and that there is a token estimate of £70, I think that we are justified in at least having some attempt at explanation as to what these huge items mean.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
In the original Estimates we have a Vote A and in the Supplementary Estimate we have not a Vote A. How can we consider whether this money has been properly spent? Has it some relation to the number of people upon whom it is being spent? I know that it is possible to refer back, as I have done, to the Army Estimates for 1955–56, but that does not help very much in this case. I think that it would help if the Votes which we are discussing in the Supplementary Estimate had the same column reference as those in the original Estimate, giving the numbers for which they are responsible. That would enable us to get a better idea of the value of the money which is being spent.
135 Are we getting value in goods and services under this, as I think it is now called, support contribution or support payment, equal to that obtained when it used to be called occupation costs? Does the change of name mean any difference in the value of the service that we are getting? Are the civilian personnel dealt with in this Estimate the same as they were before the changeover from the Army of Occupation to the integrated part of N.A.T.O. or whatever we are in now? Do we rely on mainly German labour for this civilian work or have we British labour out there as well?
When looking, as I have done, carefully at the explanation on page 7, I am somewhat mystified. We are told that the obligation formeeting the local requirements of the Occupying Powersamounted to about £600 million a year. That was during occupation and before the change of status. What was the British share of that £600 million a year?
We see from paragraph 3 thatUnder the terms of the Convention, these support funds …amount to approximately £270 million and that our share is £70 million. If our share is £70 million, why are we dealing with an Appropriation in Aid of £123 million? The Appropriation in Aid which we are now dealing with is £55 million.
There are one or two points which arise on the original Estimates. My hon. Friend has mentioned the veterinary and remount establishments. If he refers to page 100 of the original Estimates, he will find that the veterinary and remount establishments account for £40,000 of the Estimates and that there is no provision for either horses or mules. The whole of that Estimate is concerned with one retired officer; Grade III, two assistants (scientific), three clerical, typing, etc., staff, twenty-six industrial staff, overtime, National Insurance, six locally-engaged clerical, typing, etc., staff abroad and 117 locally-engaged industrial staff. About £40,000 is spent on veterinary and remount establishments, although there are, apparently, so far as we can tell by the Estimates, no remounts to deal with. Then, I notice that in Vote 4, Civilian, although the figure for pay and record offices increased last year by £122,000, the total is now up by another £150,000. I wonder why?
136 Then I come to "Recruiting, welfare and legal aid," which has increased by £55,000. Does this all apply to German civilians? Is there no welfare service in Germany itself? Is it our obligation to provide a welfare service and legal aid for German civilians? Have they no welfare service or free legal aid of their own, as we have in this country? Surely a country which has now got national sovereignty should be looking after its own nationals and should not be dependent upon the charity of what might be called a semi-occupying Power.
Under Vote 7, subhead D, there is an increase of £415,000 under "Warlike stores." Why are there warlike stores in the hands of German civilians? Is this our contribution towards German rearmament? I cannot understand why the total expenditure under this head is £109,177,000. I am ignorant on these matters but from where we do get warlike stores? I take it that this deals with civilians. Did the Germans supply us with warlike stores when we had the Army of Occupation there? Are Krupps in production?
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
The hon. Gentleman is slightly mistaken. Vote 4 is the only one dealing with civilians. Vote 7 has not got a heading "Civilians."
§ Mr. Simmons
But we have been told that instead of the Germans giving us goods and services, as they did when we were the occupying Power, they now give us the equivalent in a contribution. I am wondering where they get the warlike stores from to give to us when they are supposed to be forming their own army.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) referred to higher formation training. I thought that that was very hush-hush and was confined entirely to brass hats of the highest grade, who were hand-picked. If that is so, we must be careful. Here, under the German contribution under another name, is an amount spent on a higher formation training. What are we training these Germans for? Are we taking them on the General Staff? Are we providing them with brass hats and red tabs? Are we integrating them into the British Army? It is very peculiar.
Then under Vote 9 there is a subhead "Compensation for losses, damage, &c." 137 containing a most amazing figure. The increase is more than the original amount, which was only £500,000, whereas the increase is £725,000.
§ Mr. Simmons
Why are we bearing these losses? Are they barrack damages? In the British Army the "mugs" pay for barrack damages—that is, poor old Tommy, not the taxpayer nor even the Germans, through a contribution.
An increase of £725,000 on barrack damages is a bit stiff, so can we have some information on this matter, which is not a joking one? It is many years since I was in the Army, and we used to have a little money knocked off now and again for broken windows or broken hand scrubbers, but it never amounted to a sum which could be put down in a Supplementary Estimate to the extent of £725,000.
I hope the Minister will be forthcoming about this matter of compensation for losses, damage, etc. Can we know what losses are incurred? Is it a loss of status for any of these people? What damage is incurred? Is it damage to Army installations or barracks, and if the damages are caused by the civilian employees, should not they, as well as soldiers, be called upon to pay for barrack damage? Why should soldiers have to pay for such damage, while civilian employees do not?
Those are the main points that I want to raise. There do not seem to be any outstanding matters, and the item "Miscellaneous Charges" is so nebulous that one cannot say much about it. I ask the Minister not to think because we raise these points that we are desirous of being unduly critical or of being nasty towards him. I know that he sometimes thinks that we like to be nasty, but really we do not. We think a great deal of him, and like to see him come here, take charge of the Estimates and reply to the debate in person.
We raise these points only because it is the duty of all Members of Parliament, when we are dealing with Estimates for the Services or anything else, to protect the interests of the taxpayer, and it is no use the right hon. Gentleman riding off by saying that this is not the taxpayers' money because we receive it from 138 Germany, or from an appropriation in aid under some agreement signed on the Continent. It is the taxpayers' money in the sense that it concerns services for which this House is responsible, and we are glad to have the opportunity of discussing them. We hope that the Minister will not take it amiss that we have used this opportunity to raise what may appear to him to be niggling points, but which, after all, are points on which we desire information.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I think that a certain amount of time could have been saved if the War Office had thought fit to print the Explanation at the beginning of the Estimates rather than at the end. It may seem an extraordinarily simple point, but it is the sort of thing recommended in the Military Manual. I am sure that some of the time which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) spent in trying to investigate these matters might have been saved.
Nevertheless, although these Estimates show that this House is called upon to provide only £70 from the British taxpayer, undoubtedly they raise a great issue about the British military base in Germany. We very often hear forecasts of what the cost to us will be in the future, and though I feel quite certain that the House will have no difficulty in passing the £70 that is called for, and not all the mathematical genius of the hon. Gentleman opposite can make it any more, it does raise the question of the German base.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. Gentleman mentions the cost of the base in Germany. Can he give us an estimate of the cost of that base?
§ Mr. Fraser
If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire wants a further explanation, I would suggest that he should repair to the Library and read the Explanation given, when he will find that the cost to the taxpayer this year is £70. The Estimate gives an approximate idea of what it will cost in the future, and that is the point on which I should like to say a few words tonight.
It is impossible at this stage to go into the details of this expenditure, but I feel that it is absolutely essential that the base for the four British divisions which 139 are now committed to Europe, their support and the support of the civilian organisation for their service, should be well done. I think it is absolutely vital that the services, the employment of civilians, barracks accommodation and other installations in which these British troops and their families will have to live, should be of the best. Hon. Members on all sides of the House have stressed the necessity of seeing that Regular recruitment for the Army is increased, but the very essence and test of the future attraction of the Army will undoubtedly be the stationing of these four divisions in the British base in Germany. I expect that the expenses are high. We know that they are in the neighbourhood of £55 million—
§ Mr. Fraser
Then I will discuss the Estimate in more detail. About £30 million will be spent on civilian employment. I believe that it will be well spent if we see that it aids recruitment to the British Regular Army. The test of the efficiency of our forces may well be the efficiency of the British base in Germany. This expenditure, high though it may be, is necessary as our contribution which is vital to the structure of N.A.T.O. and to the defence considerations on which most hon. Members in this House are agreed.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) said that the Minister might have avoided some of the cross-examination to which he has been subjected if he had put the Explanation at the beginning instead of the end of the Estimate. I acknowledge that, generally speaking, the Minister is very lucid if he is not always very logical, but I do not think that in the Explanation Note he is even lucid.
I should like to know whether the £70 million referred to in the Estimate, which will be the British portion of the £270 million which the Bonn Government will be finding for the period from 6th May, 1955, to 5th May, 1956, is sufficient to fulfil the requirements of the British Armed Forces. Can we take it that the total cost of the divisions and the Air Force in Germany today is £70 million? Can the right hon. Gentleman say 140 whether that will be so next year, whether it is likely to remain at about that figure or whether there is any chance of it being reduced?
There is a further point which I raised during the debate on the Army Estimates in February. I should like to know the position of British officers and men serving in Germany. When they were part of the Army of Occupation they had considerable privileges and advantages. They had cheap facilities on the railways, cheap petrol, duty free goods from the N.A.A.F.I., and those facilities were extended to their wives. I cannot find out whether or not the officers and men serving in Germany are worse off as a result of the West German Government being granted independence.
I should like to know whether the concessions which the men had as members of the Army of Occupation still apply. If they do not, I remind the Minister that the Under-Secretary of State for War assured us during the earlier debate that, if the concessions were withdrawn as a result of Germany being granted independence, these men would be given an overseas allowance. It is a very sore point that most of the boys serving in Germany—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Surely wages and salaries apply to the men serving in the Forces? Surely the question of their pay is dealt with in the Supplementary Estimate? All I am asking is whether the men now serving in Germany will be any worse off—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes, but I understand the hon. Gentleman to be talking about the Forces in Germany. We are dealing with the Army Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
But this Supplementary Estimate would not be necessary if we had not the Forces there. The fact that we have them—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I will gladly limit my remarks to the Army.
141 I wish to know whether the Army, the officers and other ranks in Germany, are enjoying the same privileges and concessions now that Western Germany has been granted freedom and independence as they enjoyed as members of an occupation force. I think that we are entitled to an assurance on that matter. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to realise that one of the sorest grievances among the men serving in Germany is that it is not regarded as an overseas posting.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I do not wish to detain the House for more than a minute, but I desire to ask a question about Vote 4. I am not clear about how this Supplementary Estimate is supposed to be set out. Does it mean that the figure of £14 million under Subhead C of Vote 4 relating to regimental units is being spent on the employment of civilians? If so, I am interested to see it, because it is something which I have been advocating for a long time.
If that be so, I should like to ask whether these people are doing jobs which would not be necessary in the event of war. If they are doing jobs which are necessary in time of war, how are they to be replaced? It seems a large sum of money, and I hope that these people are doing the sort of civilian chores which have to be done in peace-time, but which are not necessary in war-time, and therefore releasing soldiers to do their proper jobs.
I wish to know whether any of the money under Subhead G, relating to Army educational establishments, is to be spent on secondary schools in Germany or only on primary schools. If it is not to be spent on secondary schools, if there are no Army educational establishments on a secondary school basis in Germany, either contemplated or estimated for, perhaps we may have a little more lucid answer than we received last time on the question of education of the children of men serving in the Forces.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
There is one conclusion to be drawn from the remarks made about this Estimate. It is that either hon. Members have not been very clever in understanding it, or I have failed to make clear 142 the reason why it was presented. My excuse is that the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) seemed to understand fully what it was about and I should like to thank him for his perception in having read the Explanation before he read the Estimate. I accept the rebuke of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), who has now left the Chamber, that it might have been better to put the Explanation first and the Estimate last.
Against the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I would say that, having listened to as many of his speeches as of other hon. Members, I think that his last speech was his worst. He is under a misapprehension, both about the purpose and the explanation of the Supplementary Estimate. I am aware of the mental capacity of the hon. Member, and I do not think that, having read this Estimate, he could believe what he said.
At the outset, I think that I should repeat the reasons why we are asking for this Supplementary Estimate, and what it really means. The Estimate makes a token provision of £10 per Vote in order to obtain the authority of this House to appropriate, for Army Votes, the sums that have been made available by the Federal German Government for local supplies and services for the Army. Secondly, expenditure upon such supplies and services should be charged to Army Votes and accounted for through the Army Account.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is not the Minister going to make some attempt to explain the colossal expenditure upon telegrams and telephones?
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member is falling below his own level. If he takes the trouble to read HANSARD he will find that his intervention is not relevant to the explanation which I am trying to give. If he will wait for a few moments he will understand.
The second point is that the expenditure upon these supplies and services should be charged to Army Votes, and accounted for through the Army Account. The net result is that these sums are not increases. This is a transference of money which in the past has been paid for by Germany for supplies and services without being accountable to Parliament. 143 Now that the agreement has been signed we have changed the procedure, and that money, which is German money, is transferred to our Votes, so that it comes in the form of an increase. That does not mean that our telephone bill has gone up.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member is incorrigible. He had better wait for the debate on the Army Estimates, 1956–57, because I do not believe that anything I say now can make the position any clearer. I am certain that his hon. Friend the Member for Fulham—perhaps with my help—can make the position clear to the hon. Member if we have a talk with him later.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think that my hon. Friend has a point here in regard to telephones. I agree that the figures marked as increases in this Estimate are not really increases, but it is stated that that amount of money has been spent upon certain items in Germany. If we take the whole thing together, the amount that is so registered as an increase is £55 million. We may therefore conclude that £55 million has been spent in Germany upon these various items. As the right hon. Gentleman will find if he adds up all the items in the original Estimate, they total about £330 million, of which £55 million—that is to say, about onesixth—was in relation to expenditure in Germany. That has now to be provided for by this Supplementary Estimate.
The proportion in general seems to be about one-sixth. The curious thing about telegrams and telephones is that of a total of £5½ million spent by the Army in respect of telephones, as much as one-third appears to have been spent in Germany. One wonders why expenditure upon telephones in Germany should have been so much greater, in proportion, than expenditure upon other things.
§ Mr. Head
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He has given a very lucid explanation of his hon. Friend's point—if it was his point. It is a more subtle and more penetrating question, which I have not gone into in detail. I should say that the explanation may be that 144 costs in respect of staff, charges for telephones and communications in Germany were borne by the German Government, and also that there are four divisions stationed in that area and billeted all over Germany. This is far and away the largest single concentration of troops which we have anywhere in the world. In addition, three of those four divisions are armoured, which means that there is a great deal of dispersion and also a great deal of special communications for the armour. I cannot give hon. Members a really detailed explanation for what I admit is a subtle point. I accept his point, and if he wishes for further details of it, I shall be glad to supply them.
I do not wish to detain the House for too long, but I would like to answer some of the questions put to me. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) asked particularly about education in Germany and the significance of the figures. These figures are concerned with the German contribution to educational facilities in Germany and are additional to those paid by normal British sources for British staff and so on. Our object in the War Office, on behalf of the Army in Germany, is to retain a high standard of education in Germany. A great deal of the credit for this goes to the hon. Gentleman himself. I know his interest in this subject. The educational facilities in Germany are very greatly appreciated. Any help that the hon. Gentleman is able to give me in maintaining that standard we shall be delighted to accept.
I noticed that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) managed to get brass hats into this Supplementary Estimate. He asked for clarification on one or two points, and I will try to explain them briefly. The civilians are entirely German. No British civilians are concerned in this matter. As to the R.A.S.C., Veterinary and Remount civilians, I will give the hon. and gallant Gentleman privately a breakdown of the figures. The R.A.S.C. is the prime cost in these matters, and not the Remount. The main cost is not on account of horses. In Germany and elsewhere the Army makes very considerable use of dogs in order to save manpower. This amount is primarily to do not with horses but with dogs, who go down to the veterinary—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an estimate of the amount spent in Germany on dogs?
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman has been in this House for a number of years, so he knows that I cannot give that answer without notice. I will communicate with him on the matter if he wishes.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill put a query to me about welfare and asked whether it was for our Forces or for Germans. This is welfare for our own Forces and for that part of the welfare services which involves German employees. We employ within the general welfare service German employees, who come under the Occupation Forces. The same applies to higher formation training. On a large single exercise we may have certain German drivers or telephone operators who are employed temporarily for the training exercise. They also come under this Vote.
§ Mr. Head
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if there is any question of secrecy or of cyphers we never employ Germans, and we use not merely British, but British who have been carefully screened.
The question of loss and damage is explained in the Estimate. It is for damage incurred in various ways and for compensation arising from training, traffic accidents and so forth. The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone were out of order so it would be unwise for me, especially as he is now out of the Chamber, to mention them further.
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) was worried about increases in expenditure. I appreciate, that. I know he has been on a visit to Germany. He wanted to know whether, after this change, the Army would be worse off or better off. He asked further whether any loss in concessions and special privileges which they now have would be compensated for by local overseas allowance. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the only reason that there is now no L.O.A. in Germany is that because of the various concessions the cost of living in Germany is no higher than it is in this 146 country. Directly it is higher, that will be compensated for by L.O. A.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) asked me about civilians in Germany, and especially their rôle if war should break out. I wish to make quite clear that Germany is unique in this respect, that a proportion of what is normally called the tail of the Army is furnished in Germany by German civilans. That is to say, that in workshops and other base organisations we have what is called the G.S.O.—the German Service Organisation—which provides a large proportion of the tail. That is a very valuable and important contribution of the Germans. I hope and believe that it will continue, for it is a very great asset to the Army at the present time. We have organised in that way, and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that were we to organise otherwise the strain on the Army and on the taxpayer would be very much greater. This contribution of skilled labour is one which the Army and, I think, the country value very much indeed.
I hope I have answered hon. Members, and in the event of our having to produce further Supplementary Estimates of this kind, I can assure the House that the explanation will come at the start and not at the finish.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The Secretary of State for Air has set out his Supplementary Estimate with great care, and I think that the Explanation which is to be found on page 5 is perfectly clear. It covers three points, and I should like to ask one or two questions on each of the three points.
The first one is the same point in substance as that which we have just been discussing in relation to the Army. As I understand it, the point is simply that in this case the expenditure of the Air Force in Germany is now brought into the Estimates on both sides of the account instead of being brought in on neither side of the account. That is the change 147 which has taken place here, and of course it is a change which in principle every hon. Member ought to welcome because it brings this expenditure into much more direct scrutiny in this House. It makes no difference one way or the other this year to the taxpayer, however. Whether, as the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) was saying, it will make some considerable difference in future years is another matter, and I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary of State can tell us something about the prospects.
The second question that I should like to ask on the German issue is one which my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) asked the Secretary of State for War, to which I do not think he got an answer. That is the question of figures which, on the face of it, look rather odd. As the first paragraph of the Explanation tells us, the German's contribution to all the Allied Forces has been £600 million a year. That comes down to under half—£270 million a year—of which the contribution to British Forces—Army and Air Force taken together—is £70 million.
That £70 million is apparently going to cover the whole of our costs in Germany, but how is that? Is it that the British share of the subvention of the Germans to the Allies as a whole has gone up sharply; or does it mean that we are economising very drastically in Germany in respect of our costs?
I can see no other reason why this very much reduced global contribution by the Germans suffices now to cover our whole expenditure in Germany. That is the point which my hon. Friend was making. It is an interesting and curious one, and the House ought to be informed about it, because otherwise some of the apprehensions of my hon. Friend that the conditions of the British personnel, whether in the Army or the Royal Air Force, in Germany will deteriorate very sharply would seem to be justified.
The second question is whether this German contribution, which is to ensure we are sharing the whole Army and Air Force expenditure in Germany this year, is to continue, or shall we, as the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone apprehended, face in future years a real net increase on our Service Estimates? My 148 hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) thought that that would happen this year, and he was wrong. It may be he will turn out to be right next year or the year after. Those are questions of substance about this part of the Estimate concerned with Germany, whether in relation to the Army or the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will press this matter, because as will be seen that in paragraph 4 of the Explanation it is stated:This Supplementary Estimate has been drawn up on the basis that the expenditure to be incurred in the period 6th May, 1955, to the end of the current United Kingdom financial year in respect of the local supplies and services ordered by the British forces in that period will be covered by the British forces' share of the support funds.I was under the impression that that was the total cost, and not a major cost.
§ Mr. Strachey
No, I think it is not quite as simple as that, but I agree with my hon. Friend's point of substance—whether the net charge will in future years fall on us in respect of these transactions although it does not do so this year. That is the essential point.
The second point about the Royal Air Force Supplementary Estimate is what I would call the barter transaction which we have entered into with the United States Government. It is most interesting and curious, and though I do not say it is necessarily objectionable I think we ought to be told about it. As I read it—and it is not a very simple matter, and I stand to be corrected if I am wrong—what it adds up to in the end is that the United States Government are going to pay us rent for houses which we build and they are going to pay us that rent in tobacco.
§ Mr. Strachey
We shall do a little better than that. What will happen apparently will be that we shall buy 15 million dollars' worth of tobacco and we shall not use any dollars in that transaction. That is 149 a clear gain because it will not cost us anything in foreign currency. The United States Government, having received the sterling equivalent of that, will hand it over to the British Government, the British Government will build the houses, and will then let them to the American Government for £1 a year. As I say, we should get the tobacco not for nothing but on the basis of a quid pro quo for providing houses in this country. That is why I use the phrase that the American Government, in effect, will pay us a tobacco rent for these houses.
I believe that if the Under-Secretary of State for War thinks it out, he will find that that is the net effect of the transaction, though I do not pretend to be sure. I am not objecting to it. It does not save us a sterling sum, but it saves us an expenditure in dollars, and I am glad that the freehold of the houses is to remain in the hands of the British Government. That is a good thing, because whatever may be our views about the American bases in this country, I do not think that we would want the American Government to acquire a freehold property in these houses. It is better that the houses should remain the freehold of the British Government, let to the American Government on whatever basis may be agreed.
I wish to deal with a small point. We are to authorise an increase of £10,000 in the grant to the Royal Society towards expenditure on research in pure meteorology. I should have thought that that was a very desirable purpose. I do not suggest for a moment that it is not, but I am rather surprised that we were not told about it in the Air Estimates which were placed before us not long ago. There was an interesting paragraph on the subject of meteorology in the Secretary of State's Explanatory Memorandum on the Air Estimates, but that Memorandum told us nothing about the grant to the Royal Society. I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us a little more about it. I believe that he is rightly and justly proud of the meteorological service, which has been steadily developing.
When I held the Under-Secretary's office at the beginning of the 1945 Parliament, it was interesting to see the work of the Meteorological Office, which is the special responsibility of the Under-Secretary, and I am sure that the whole House will be interested to hear what the 150 Royal Society is contracting to do or what expectations it is holding out to the Government relating to the use of this money on, I take it, meteorological theory rather than meteorological practice. I cannot help feeling that the House would like the questions which I have put to the Under-Secretary answered before we approve of this Supplementary Estimate.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Air will give us a very clear explanation of the expenses incurred on the American Air Force in this country. I should like to have the tobacco transaction explained. After having considered the implications of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee. West (Mr. Strachey), I should have thought it cheaper to exchange Scotch whisky for American tobacco rather than have matters complicated in this housing transaction.
We are told in the Explanation of this Supplementary Estimate that,Her Majesty's Government for their part have agreed to provide houses for the use of United States military forces in the United Kingdom at a cost equivalent to the value of the aid.Why is it necessary to provide houses for American military personnel in this country?
I speak for an area which has a very considerable number of American airmen in this vicinity, at Prestwick. I should like to know something about this housing transaction for which expenditure is demanded in this Estimate. How many of these 1,600 houses will be built in or near Prestwick, for example? What is going to be the cost? Are they to be built by the Ministry of Works or by the local authority? In any case, if we start building houses for American personnel in the neighbourhood of Prestwick there will be considerable questioning and criticism from local people. Do we understand that the American forces have come there to stay permanently? Is it necessary that special houses should be built for this purpose?
I was travelling down from Prestwick the other day with a very charming American lady who said, "I have come over to join my husband, who is in the Army of Occupation in this country." 151 That is a very interesting point of view. In the locality people are wondering whether the American Army of Occupation is to remain permanently and why it is necessary to build special houses. In the neighbourhood of Prestwick Aerodrome there is ample accommodation in boarding houses and hotels. Why then is it necessary where there is ample accommodation for the greater part of the year for building labour and resources to be diverted to building houses for what seems to be regarded as the Army of Occupation? We are told thatThe houses will remain the property of Her Majesty's Government and will be let to the United States military authorities at a nominal rent of £1 for each house.When that is known in the locality a large number of people will want to disguise themselves as American personnel in order to get houses at £1 a year for each house. How was that price fixed? Are we really getting the better part of the bargain in this interchange of tobacco against houses? I can foresee that this will not add greatly to the popularity of the American Army of occupation in a district where so many now seem to think that diplomatic immunity applies to such things as speeding in motor cars. I am not at all convinced that it is a wise policy to increase expenditure on houses for American personnel.
I am not at all anti-American. I have a very large number of friends in the American military forces in this country. I travel more than anyone else between Prestwick and Burtonwood. Every time I go to and from my constituency I come across many American military personnel. They do not want special houses built for them in Ayrshire or Burtonwood. The great anxiety of these American personnel is to go back to their homes in Texas or in the Middle West.
American personnel in this country are not wanting special houses for themselves and their families because they realise that in the event of hostilities the American Air Force in this country will be infinitely more dangerous than it will be in Texas or the Middle West. American military personnel ask what civil defence there is in this country for their families if they bring them from America. I am convinced that if the Under-Secretary of State for Air 152 took a gallup poll of the American airmen in this country that, far from wishing to see houses built for them, even at a nominal rent of £1 per house, they would opt to go back to America where their families would be infinitely safer than in this country.
What makes these house necessary? It is because there has been a demand that the Americans should bring their wives and children with them. We know that when soldiers are stationed on foreign soil without their families trouble occurs. There has been in the neighbourhood of Prestwick and Ayr a considerable amount of trouble, which has been reflected in some unsavoury cases in the police courts, because American airmen are here without their wives. That will not be solved by merely bringing over a comparatively small number of selected families to live in selected houses.
I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), whose constituency abuts on Prestwick Airport, will know that there will be considerable criticism because special houses are being built at a nominal rent of £1 per house when there are so many families on the waiting list. These houses absorb labour and the resources of the building industry in that part of the world. Although we have made progress in housing there, there are still large waiting lists, and the local people think that they should come first.
So I suggest that this whole item of expenditure should be examined again. The Under-Secretary of State for Air should take this up with the American Air Force in this country, and put to them the point of view that it would be far better for the American personnel in this country to be taken back to a safer base in the Middle West of America.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in protesting at this agreement to build houses for American Service men in this country. I am not one to object to the Americans being here, or to their having anything that they want, but I do object to the Government, of which the hon. Gentleman is a Member, curtailing the right of my local authority to build 153 houses for the people who really need them, while at the same time granting to the Air Ministry facilities to provide houses for people who have not the same right to them as the people on whose behalf I am speaking tonight.
I have people in my division who have lived in slum conditions for generations. Because of the attitude of the Government, they will continue to live in those conditions because the Minister of Housing and Local Government is cutting down the number of houses to be built by local authorities for rental. I say that it is infamous that the Air Ministry, at a time when there is not the building material available to meet all the claims that are being made upon it, should have given the go ahead sign and allowed further claims to be made on limited resources which will not be used for the benefit of our own people.
I hope that the Air Ministry will think again on this matter. If it does not, I want it to understand that this will cause a tremendous agitation throughout the country from the people who are waiting patiently year after year for houses and living in abominable conditions. Apparently they are to go on living in those conditions because the Government are making arrangements of this kind.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I was never more astonished than when I read the Explanation contained in the Supplementary Estimate. For some years we have had propaganda put out by the party opposite about State trading. We were told that the experts should be allowed to import wheat, for example, Now the hierarchy of the Air Force is importing tobacco. We have this bartering between the Air Ministry and the tobacco interests of the U.S.A. We do not know whether this tobacco is to be in the form of Havana cigars, Virginian leaf or what. By this barter agreement between two State Departments, the Air Ministry is to build houses to pay for the tobacco provided by the American tobacco interests.
I would prefer the tobacco to come through the normal channels of trade, and I am sure that the party opposite would prefer it too. I cannot understand why people who believe in private enterprise and who say that the merchants should do the importing, support a Vote of this 154 kind and allow this sort of transaction right outside the ordinary channels of trade. Fifteen million dollars worth of tobacco is to come into this country, and there is not a murmur from the other side of the House. When, during the days of the Labour Government, we imported produce through State organisations, there were complaints enough, but now not one voice is raised by the party opposite against this Air Ministry transaction.
Many of our own troops are abroad, and many of them have to live under canvas. A good many are billeted in very ordinary quarters. Why should we have to provide what appear from the Estimate to be luxury conditions for the American personnel? We are given no information of the standard of the houses. In the last two years, our own housing standard has been cut. Do the houses which the Air Ministry is building for American Air Force personnel comply with our old standards of housing or with the new standards? Are some of the houses for rankers, with their wives and children—say, five rooms and a bathroom—or do some of them have eight rooms for the high-ranking officers? What style of house is to be built?
The average rent per annum is to be £1. In my constituency, people live in two rooms and kitchens and have suffered an increase much heavier than that. The annual increase in rent for some tenements in Clydebank is about £13 a year. We are given no description of these houses the rent for which is to be £1 a year. It will take about 2,000 years to pay back their capital cost. If I could be told that the rent is to be more in keeping with rents in this country, I should be very pleased to know. Are the houses being built by the Air Ministry itself? Are they being built by direct labour or are they to be put out to contract to the big contractors, all at the same price?
A case was brought to my attention only a few days ago which I hope in due course to raise in the House. A local authority in East Dumbartonshire received tenders from people supplying building material. Six contractors submitted exactly the same price for ten items. How are these houses for the Americans to be financed? Are they to be built by public tender or by the Air Ministry, using their own building trade workers? I hope that these houses will 155 not be built until we have dealt with monopoly practices in the building trade because we might be able to build their houses cheaper then, and instead of an initial sum of £250,000 being required, we might reduce it to £200,000.
The Minister should take back this Estimate and cut out all the nonsense about barter trade and tobacco and building houses by one of the most spendthrift Departments of the State. The Air Force expenditure in the last twelve months has been fantastic and no one seems to know what we have got for it. Apparently we are to get 15 million dollars' worth of tobacco, but we do not even know whether it will be in the form of Havana cigars or Virginia leaf; and the American troops are to get 1,600 houses but we do not know where they are to be. Could we have some information on this matter?
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
It is a serious matter that we are to build 1,600 houses during the coming year from the point of view of those areas where there is still an acute housing shortage, so may we know where they are to be built? Are any to be built in Scotland, and especially in the area mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)?
I have no doubt that this will not be popular, but for different reasons given by my colleague. I heard the last part of his speech when he was referring to certain things that had happened. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend did not give the impression that American airmen are unwelcome or unpopular in that part of the country, because they are not. As far as their behaviour is concerned, I do not think it is worse than that of any troops in any other part of the country.
Indeed, these troops enjoy a certain popularity in certain places in Ayr, which is a seaside resort, for the reason that the local people are used to letting their houses. At the present time these Americans are occupying private houses that the people are glad to let to them because they pay a little more than, for instance, visitors from the Glasgow Fair.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend noticed it but the columns of the "Ayrshire Post" a few months ago were full of complaints, particularly from small 156 hotel proprietors who had some American airmen billeted on them because, owing to a change of policy with a change of commanding officer, they were taken away and put into a hotel run by Butlins. So the town of Ayr is certainly conscious of the value to them in terms of money of these American airmen.
There will be a certain amount of resentment, however, if building materials that could have been used for local authority building are used for erecting these 1,600 houses or any share that comes to that part of the country. I do not know whether the Minister realises it, but already this year we have seen a falling off in the amount of local authority building to meet the needs of the local population of Scotland—
§ Mr. Ross
Naturally I am concerned about my own problems. Therefore it will be a matter of regret if a new policy comes into operation which will still further hamper the building of necessary houses around Ayr, Prestwick, Kilmarnock or in other parts of the country.
This is a concealed form of dollar aid, a rather roundabout form of American charity—we are short of dollars to buy the tobacco and, in exchange, we build houses for the American Forces. But what happens to the houses eventually? Are these houses to be handed over to us without any further cost to us?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Ross
They are? I think that proves my point that this is American aid. Eventually, these houses will fall to the lot of the local authority, or will it be the Air Ministry? Is it the intention that these houses shall be handed over to the local authority? Although I notice from the Memorandum that the American forces in this country will pay for their maintenance, what about the actual administration? Will the local authorities be responsible for administration in regard to repairs and maintenance in the meantime?
Wherever the houses are to be built, I should like to be assured that there will be consultation with the local authorities, and that the whole position will be made clear to the public in regard to the terms and conditions of the building of these 157 houses and what eventually will happen to them. Only in that way can we avoid the undesirable feelings of dismay and disappointment that this thing should come about. I hope the Minister will be able to give the answers to some of these points.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Ward
I do not think I need spend very long on the point about the German contribution, because it was raised only by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). I will deal with the two points which the right hon. Gentleman raised.
In his first question, he asked me about the future. My information on that is that this particular agreement that we are discussing this evening lasts only until May, 1956, and that after that a new agreement will have to be negotiated. That has not yet been done, and so I cannot tell what the future will be. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's second question about the difference in the size of our share, the point there is that the German contribution used to include expenditure on capital works, and now it is mainly devoted to the maintenance and repair of existing buildings.
The right hon. Gentleman and several other hon. Members raised the question of the American tobacco—housing transaction, and I should like to deal with it at some length so that, if I can, I may remove any doubts that exist in the minds of hon. Members about it. It is explained in the printed Estimate that the expenditure this year on these houses can be met from sums already voted, and therefore it is only a notional Estimate which comes in for this year. Because the proposal for building these houses was not put before Parliament when the original Air Estimates were being discussed, it is, of course, necessary to bring it before the House now. We could not put it before the House at that time because negotiations with the United States were not then completed.
In common with the British practice, the United States authorities allow the families of members of their armed forces to join them at overseas stations, and, as everybody knows, families of United States service men have been in this country for some time. Previously, there has been no official provision of quarters for them, and therefore they have had to 158 find accommodation as best they could and on their own initiative. In view of the general housing shortage in this country, this has not been easy for them to do, and in many cases accommodation near the bases has been almost unprocurable. Accommodation has had to be found some distance away, and that is very undesirable both on operational and administrative grounds. It will be generally agreed that, on the whole, the presence of families conduces to high morale and good behaviour and also to general good relations between visiting forces and their neighbours in this country.
The United States Congress did not choose to appropriate funds directly for the provision of married quarters for United States Forces here. They agreed to do it in a different way. They agreed that up to certain limits the proceeds of the disposal of surplus agricultural commodities could be devoted to this purpose. In this instance, the 15 million dollars' worth of surplus tobacco is to be imported from the United States and the sterling equivalent of this is to be deposited to the account of the American Government in this country.
That sterling is to be made available for transfer in aid of Air Votes. Our part of the agreement is to build the houses for the United States families at a cost equivalent to the value of this aid. Hon. Gentlemen who have been worried about this nominal rent of £1 will realise that the capital cost of building these houses is being borne by the Americans, because they are devoting money to it which they have received from us from the sale of tobacco. We cannot ask them to pay the capital cost of the houses and also to pay a high—
§ Mr. Ward
When the Americans no longer require them they become available for British people. I cannot tell the 159 House whether they will be taken over by the local authorities or not; that has not been decided. The point is that, whoever takes them over for the purpose of making them available to the British population, they will represent additional accommodation. Therefore, I cannot see that it matters very much at this stage whether they are made available to the population by the local authorities or by someone else.
§ Mr. Ross
An important consideration still remains. It may be a pity that the hon. Gentleman does not realise that Scottish law is slightly different from English law. If they are taken by the Air Ministry, the Air Ministry will be liable for owners' rates in Scotland. I should like to know whether provision has been made to pay the owners' rates for these houses in the area where they are to be built?
§ Mr. Ward
I am not certain about that, but certainly the Americans are responsible for the upkeep and general maintenance of these houses while they are in occupation.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) were anxious that the provision of these houses should not upset the provision of houses for the British population. We have borne that very much in mind. There are two points which I should like to make. The first is that of course there are already large numbers of American families in this country occupying living accommodation and, to that extent, when these houses are taken over by American families the accommodation which those families now occupy will be made available.
Secondly, we are being most careful to minimise the demands on traditional materials and labour required by the local housing authorities. That has been laid down expressly in the specifications upon which we are seeking tenders from the contractors. We specify non-traditional building methods and materials. As hon. Gentlemen know, most local housing authorities now prefer to build houses of the traditional type. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire asked who will build the houses. The answer is that the Air Ministry Works Directorate will employ contractors to do the work.
160 I have dealt with the other points raised, except about the location of the houses. At this stage I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to discuss their location. There are sixteen different locations which we have in mind, but I would prefer not to discuss the details. We are still having discussions with the local planning authorities, and I do not desire to say anything which might prejudice those discussions.
I will now turn for a moment to the third point in the Estimate, the grant-in-aid to the Royal Society. One or two hon. Members have shown an interest—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Before leaving the point, can the hon. Gentleman give us any idea of how long the agreement about houses we are building for American troops will be effective? Is there any limitation placed on it?
§ Mr. Ward
No, Sir. That, clearly, must depend on how long the international situation makes it necessary for our American friends to stay here and help us. So long as they are here, the houses they have paid for will be available for them.
Now may I touch for a moment on this meteorological point, the grant of £10,000 to the Royal Society. It is intended as a first instalment towards the cost of a four-year programme of research into the conditions of the upper atmosphere. Until now, the instruments on which we have relied for our observations into the upper atmosphere have been carried in free flying balloons. But these balloons are limited to a height of about 80,000 to 100,000 feet and we have a limited knowledge of what goes on above that height.
The development of the rocket has, happily, offered a possibility of sending up these instruments to a much greater height and so opened up the way to detailed observations at levels which up to now we have been unable to reach. This expenditure will be partly on the research into this method of carrying instruments and partly on the provision of rockets to carry them, and, of course, on the provision of the actual instruments.
§ Mr. Strachey
The explanation of the hon. Gentleman is interesting. Will the results obtained by the Royal Society be freely published, or will they be held for security reasons? It may prove of great 161 value to science as a whole and the country generally if they could be published.
§ Mr. Ward
I should not like to commit myself on that point. So far as I know the Americans have never felt it necessary not to publish their findings, and I dare say that we shall follow their example in this matter. But I should like to check up on that, because there may be something I have not thought about.
The new programme on which we shall embark will be carried out in close cooperation with the R.A.E. at Farnborough, who will help in the design and production of the rockets and be responsible for firing them. The analysis of the results, the development of the project, and so on, will be done mainly at the universities. At the moment there are four universities which have associated themselves with the programme—London, Birmingham, Swansea and Queen's University, Belfast.
With that brief explanation I think that I have covered the points raised in the debate. If any further points occur to hon. or right hon. Gentlemen later, I hope that they will write to me, and I will try to answer them.