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Trade And Commerce

Volume 393: debated on Tuesday 2 November 1943

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International Cartels ("Germany's Master Plan")

13.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can make any further statement on the question of an inquiry into the infiltration of German influence into British industry, in the light of the book "Germany's Master Plan"?

16.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether an examination has now been made of the public- cation "Germany's Master Plan"; who were the British firms and persons involved in these arrangements; whether he will make a full statement on the allegations made and whether it is the Government's intention, in preparation for the post-war period, to put an end to all such arrangements?

This book by two American authors is mainly concerned with the relations, over the past 30 years, between American and German firms. So far as British firms are concerned, His Majesty's Government, as the Prime Minister has stated, already have under consideration the question of international cartels after the war.

Would the right hon. Gentleman cause some inquiry to be made comparable with that which took place in the United States, so that we can obtain the facts with regard to this country?

I must plainly tell the hon. Gentleman that it was at the suggestion of himself and certain other hon. Members that I read the book, and, frankly, I learned nothing new from it. There is nothing new, so far as British firms are concerned. I think the book has been somewhat over-publicised in this country so far as British firms are concerned. I repeat that this is mainly a story about American and German firms.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember that a few of us on this side of the House raised this issue before the war and got nothing but jeers and sneers from other people? In view of the fact that it has now been proved correct, will he have a full investigation made into this matter so that we can know the firms and persons responsible for betraying the interests of this country before the war?

I would always be very happy to organise or arrange an investigation if it were going to tell us something new. It is the business of the Government to acquaint themselves with the necessary facts in this case, with a view to a decision as to post-war policy. The Prime Minister has answered a Question in this House, and I have also answered Questions on the same subject. The Government regard it as an important item to be decided in relation to post-war policy, as to what regulations, if any, should be imposed upon these international cartels. We are studying that matter, and we have a considerable amount of information about it, and I am frankly doubtful whether a further investigation would tell us more than we know already.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he read the American version of this book or the British version, and if he has not read the American version, will he procure a copy?

I have taken great care to read the American version. I did not read the British version, because it has been abridged and reduced.

If the right hon. Gentleman denies certain of the allegations made in this book, will he cause to be published a Government refutation, so, that we may know where we stand? May I ask him to treat the matter rather more seriously from the standpoint of the German and enemy patents, held by various cartels operating in this country?

I would beg hon. Members not to assume that the Government are completely ignorant in this matter. We do not need to make ad hoc investigations into these matters in order to acquaint ourselves with the facts. I believe that we know the facts in this case, and I have already stated that the Government are considering what action is necessary. The matter of German patents is one for the Peace Treaty. For the moment these are all abrogated. All these agreements with enemy aliens are frustrated legally. I have said that to the House before.

Black-Out Materials

15.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the shortage of black-out material and that some shops have not had a supply for months; and what steps he is taking to remedy the inconvenience so caused?

Owing to a heavy seasonal demand, there is at present some shortage of black-out cloth. Output is being maintained at as high a level as supplies of labour and cotton yarn permit and is sub- stantially greater than last year. The public can help by not renewing their black-out curtains if they are still serviceable, or can be repaired.

Is some of this material held by firms being diverted to other purposes?

Surplus Goods And Factories (Post-War Disposal)

17.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has a statement to make regarding the post-war disposal by the Government of surplus goods and factories?

Yes, Sir. As I have already stated in the House, there must be, after the war, an orderly disposal of surplus goods, which, on the one hand, will not allow profiteering at the expense of the consumer, and, on the other hand, will pay due regard to the interests of producers and distributors. The Government have decided that disposal shall be carried out, in each particular case, through the agency of the Department mainly concerned with the supply of the goods during the war. Before working out the plans for disposal, the Board of Trade, together with other responsible Departments, will consult with representatives of the producers and distributors concerned.

The Government have further decided that the Board of Trade, through its Factory and Storage Control, shall co-ordinate the disposal of all surplus Government factories. With a view to decisions being taken as to the best use to which these can be put in the national interest, the Control will compile lists of factories and of applicants for them. The Government recognise the importance of reaching such decisions before the end of the war in as many cases as possible, but much must depend on the course of events, including future programmes of war production. Special attention will be paid to the release of factories urgently needed for peace-time production and to the possibility of converting into trading estates some of the premises no longer required for Government work.

Arising from that reply, for which I thank the right hon. Gentleman, may we presume that it is possible within the ambit of the reply that the Government will retain in their own possession some of the factories that are necessary? Will the Government be good enough to bear in mind, in disposing of these factories, their location, in relation to those areas that were depressed between the two wars and into which no new industries have entered before?

Yes, Sir, and I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for asking this question. Certainly, it is not ruled out that the Government will retain these factories. We are anxious, in the first instance, to have information as to the alternative uses to which each factory can be put, whether by Governmental, private, trading estate or any other agencies. There are many possible agencies who desire to avail themselves of these very valuable premises, in which, in many cases, much Government money has been sunk. In reply to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, we shall certainly have particular regard to the employment aspect of the case in each particular locality.

Bearing in mind the importance of the distribution of surplus stocks, will the right hon. Gentleman have regard to the desirability of not making the avenue of distribution too narrow, because in so doing he may create a new vested interest?

Certainly. We are anxious that all legitimate interests should be fairly and properly represented, and it is largely with that object in view that consultation will take place between my Department and other Departments on the one hand, and representatives of producers and distributors on the other. When I say "producers," I include the representatives of the trade unions and of the industries concerned.

Schoolchildren's Boots, Stoke-On-Trent (Leather For Repairs)

18.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will issue permits to Stoke-on-Trent education authority for supplies of leather for the repairing of boots of schoolchildren in some of the senior schools and boys' clubs, in view of the fact that boot repairing shops are working to a maximum, with long periods being required for repairs, such permits to be approved by His Majesty's inspectors of schools?

In view of the shortage of leather, supplies to schools and boys' clubs for repairs could only be made at the expense of skilled repairers, and I do not think that, in these circumstances, I should be justified in adopting my hon. Friend's suggestion. I have asked for a special report on the position in Stoke-on-Trent from my Regional Director of Footwear Repairs, and I will communicate again with my hon. Friend.

Lost Clothes Coupon Books

19.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what percentage of clothing coupon books have been lost by the public during the year to the latest date for which figures are available; and what proportion have subsequently been reported as found and returned to the owners or to his Department?

The number of lost clothing books reported to the Board of Trade between 1st January and 31st August was about 1 per cent. of the total annual issue. The number of lost books returned to the Board of Trade in this period was 26,000.

Woollen Piece Goods (Export)

20.

asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent the release of woollen piece goods already prepared for shipment to the United States of America has been refused and export licences for woollen goods held up in respect to North and South America; and will he make a statement on the Government's policy on this matter?

Licences have been granted for the export of all piece goods produced from wool allocated for that purpose. The arrangements for the control of exports of woollen piece goods are well known to the trade, and loyally accepted by them. The total available for export is now barely sufficient to meet minimum Empire requirements. The policy of His Majesty's Government on this matter is to give priority to the essential needs of the home market and of the Empire.