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Trade And Commerce

Volume 440: debated on Thursday 17 July 1947

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Paper Allocation

3.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the hon. Member for Solihull, in common with other hon. Members, has received prospectuses and trade circulars from Messrs. Hancock and Company, Limited, relating to birth control and kindred matters amounting to approximately 45 pages; that one of these enclosures states that the firm in question was now able to supply the enclosed, thanks to partial release by the Paper Control; how much paper has been allocated to this firm for this purpose; and whether he will take steps to prevent similar waste of paper in the form of unsolicited business circulars.

Under the provisions of the Paper Control Orders any person may gratuitously distribute a limited quantity of paper for advertising circulars, but according to the records of the Paper Control no paper has been specifically licensed for the circulars to which the hon. Member refers.

Does not the Minister think it is desirable to stop this waste of paper? Could it not easily be done by limiting this class of circular either to previous customers or to recipients within certain age groups?

It is difficult to censor the distribution of industrial literature of this type, but there is a very stringent limitation on the quantity that can be used.

Can the Minister tell us if this firm has anything to do with the publication of that filthy book "Forever Amber"?

5.

asked the President of the Board of Trade when he anticipates being able to make a complete review of the paper allocations for all purposes so that the greater interests of essential technical publications, education, and periodical and book production for export, also other vital national needs, receive a higher allocation than literature, bill posting, etc., which are of less vital need to the national recovery.

The allocations of paper for the different usages are regularly reviewed at four-monthly intervals. The next review will take place in about three months' time.

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend think that, in spite of difficulties, such as the discriminatory policy in the allocation of paper, it would be possible for him to agree to a list of priorities, so as to assist the making of books for export, particularly educational books, instead of the trashy sort of publication now appearing on the bookstalls, and apparently increasing?

There is discrimination in this sense, that books are getting 80 per cent, prewar, whereas posters and advertising matters only have 10 per cent.

In making the next review of the allocation of paper, would my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that only 15 per cent. of the export orders for books from this country can be met?

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that there ought to be a far more severe limitation of paper for football pools in this country?

15.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will add a representative of the Library Association to the committee responsible for the allocation of paper.

I assume that the hon. Member refers to the Committee which advises the Board of Trade on the distribution of the Special Reserve for books. This Committee, which sits under an independent chairman, consists of publishers, and I do not consider it would be advisable to add to its membership representatives of other organisations concerned with books. The Committee is, however, always glad to receive representations from the Library Association, or any other body, in respect of any particular book which is under consideration and in which they are interested.

In view of the fact that the Library Association represents more readers in this country than any other body and therefore has a special interest, could not the matter be given further consideration?

I am afraid not. There would be so many applicants who would think that they also are entitled to be on the Committee.

Essential Goods (Export)

4.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the fact that there is an overwhelming handicap to production costs by the shortage of many essential goods throughout the country, the Government would temporarily suspend the export drive with a view to enabling industry throughout the country to obtain the essentials for a permanent recovery.

No, Sir, I am not aware of any such overwhelming handicap but I shall always look carefully into any cases in which it can be shown that essential requirements of our own manufacturers for particular types of goods are not being met because those goods are being exported.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that a nation cannot double its exports unless it is allowed to get into its stride, and that this nation has not been allowed to get into its stride? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman further realise that men cannot go on working ceaselessly turning out goods for export, when those goods are urgently required in their own country?

No, Sir, I am not aware of that. I am aware that people in this country want goods as well as do people abroad.

Raw Material Controls (Staffs)

6.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether staffs of raw material controls are allowed to engage in business as merchants and exporters of articles made from the raw materials concerned.

No member of the stall of the Board of Trade may engage in any occupation or undertaking which might in any way conflict with the interests of the Department or be inconsistent with his position as a public servant. A very few members of the raw material controls have always been permitted to keep in general contact with their firms, but not to engage actively in their day-to-day management.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I have evidence of a particular individual in one of these controls not only engaging in the sale of the article concerned but, in the opinion of responsible firms, using his influence against them to prevent them from getting their allocation? If I submit the evidence, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider taking action?

I shall be very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman if he will send me whatever evidence he has.

Rhodesian Tobacco

7.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the amount of Rhodesian tobacco covered by the existing import quotas; and if, in view of the fact that this year's crop is estimated to show an increase of 9,000,000 lbs. he proposes to increase the import quotas to cover this increase.

The amount of Rhodesian tobacco covered by existing import licences is 25 million lbs. dry weight. In view of the latest estimates of the crop, and taking into consideration the proportion available in English grades, this amount is being increased by 10 per cent.

Are separate licences issued for pipe tobacco and cigarette tobacco?

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will put that Question on the Order Paper.

Waste Paper (Imports)

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade the average monthly tonnage of waste paper now being imported into this country

Separate particulars of the imports of waste paper are not recorded in the trade and navigation accounts, but no licences have been issued for such imports this year.

Is the President of the Board of Trade satisfied with the effectiveness of the arrangements for the collection of waste paper in this country?

They are as effective as we can make them. Everything possible is being done to try to get local authorities to perfect those arrangements.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman send somebody to collect my old HANSARDS.

Tyres (Exports And Imports)

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade the respective totals of tyres on new vehicles, and not on vehicles, exported from this country to sterling areas and to non-sterling areas in the two periods January to December, 1946, and January to 30th June, 1947.

Exports of new motor cars and commercial vehicles in 1946 numbered 47,000 to sterling countries and 47,600 to non-sterling countries, and from January to May, 1947, 26,100 and 23,400 respectively. No record is kept of the number of tyres exported on these vehicles. The number of pneumatic tyres for such vehicles and for tractors exported in 1946 otherwise than on vehicles was 364,000 to sterling and 481,000 to non-sterling countries and in the first five months of 1947, 192,000 and 238,000.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman satisfied with the 50 per cent. sale of tyres to non-hard currency countries? Could he not see that more tyres are exported to hard currency countries, in view of the sacrifice that the export of these tyres entails to this country?

Will the President of the Board of Trade bear in mind that many vehicles have had to be taken off the roads because of the tyre shortage in this country, and would he be prepared to look at particulars from lorry owners who have very serious complaints to make?

Certainly, Sir. We do not allocate these tyres. It is a matter for the tyre manufacturers. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will send me particulars, I will look at them.

16.

asked the President of the Board of Trade the total amount of tyres for aircraft and motor vehicles of all sorts which have been imported into this country from Norway and other countries.

In the first five months of this year a total of 3,068 tyres were imported, of which 85 were for aircraft. The only importation from Norway was one aircraft tyre.

In view of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade has just given very large figures for the ex- port of tyres, can he explain how it is that we should then import them? Has not that rather an "Alice in Wonderland" air about it?

Scaffold Boards (Importation)

13.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he has had the opportunity of considering the details which have been sent to him concerning the importation into Britain of 73,000 scaffold boards of which the building industry is in urgent need; and if he will take the necessary steps to issue the import licence forthwith.

I am satisfied that the importation of these boards would have adverse repercussions on the supplies of much larger quantities of softwood to this country; and I am, therefore, not prepared to issue an import licence.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean to say that when the building trade is crying out for scaffold boards, he will not grant this licence? Is he determined to stop the building of houses for the people of this country?

No, Sir. I am afraid that if we were to do this it would tend to stop building, because it would tend to make other larger quantities not available.

May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? How can I convey to the President of the Board of Trade, without breaking the Rules of Order, that he ought to be committed to a lunatic asylum?

Foreign Countries (Import Embargoes)

14.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what countries have placed an embargo on imports from this country.

No country has placed an embargo on all imports from the United Kingdom, but many countries control their imports from us and other countries by licence. Full details are published in each case, as they become known, in the "Board of Trade Journal."

Carbon Black

17.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what stocks of carbon black were held in this country on 1st January, 1947, and 1st July, 1947.

Stocks of carbon black for rubber manufacture on 27th December, 1946, were 4,868 tons. From incomplete returns for 27th June, 1947, it is estimated that stocks on that date were about 3,870 tons.

In view of the explanation given in this House that a good deal of the hold-up in tyres was due to the shortage of carbon black, would the President of the Board of Trade state what really important and active steps have been taken to increase not only the immediate import of carbon black, out also the permanent source of supply?

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that there is a great amount of interrogation in this House on the question of channel black? HON. MEMBERS: "Carbon black."] Carbon black is also channel black. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there are interests in America who have a corner in this at the moment, and are very anxious to know if anything is being done to produce it in this country? I hope that if it is, no information will be given in that direction.

Card Clothing

22.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that a contributing factor to the shortage of woollen and carpet yarn is the shortage of card clothing; and what action he is taking, in conjunction with the Ministry of Supply, to give better allocations of card clothing to wool textile and carpet-yarn manufacturers.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply is doing everything practicable to increase the production of card clothing, but output is limited by lack of labour and materials. Distribution arrangements for card clothing, which have been under constant review, are at present being examined in consultation with the Ministry of Supply, and due weight will be given in this examination to the claims of the wool textile and carpet yarn manufacturers.

Is the Minister aware that the production and export of textiles in carpets is held up by the export of card clothing, and would he endeavour to see that more of the production of card clothing is allocated to the home industry?

According to my information there has been no loss of output for that reason.

Clothing Manufacture (Lining Materials)

23.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he is taking to increase the supply of linings; whether he is aware that the lack of balance in the supplies of cloth and linings is preventing the use of the cloth by clothing manufacturers; and what action he is taking give give increased allocations of lining materials to clothing manufacturers.

I am aware that many garment makers are short of linings. The effect of arrangements made some while ago for increased production of linings were delayed by the fuel difficulties in the earlier part of the year, but supplies will, I hope, show some improvement in the coming months.

Is it also proposed to improve the quality of the linings, because there is complaint about them at present?

We always try to produce the best goods we can with the material available.

Newsprint Import Restrictions

21.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the estimated daily reduction in the number of inches of reading matter and advertisements, respectively, which will be caused by the cut in imports of newsprint; and what will be the saving in dollars per yard.

I am unable to state the reduction in the number of inches of matter which will result. The newspapers will either reduce their size by one page per issue or will reduce their circulation to a corresponding extent.

Will the President say whether the Government do or do not desire a free expression of news and opinions, and if they do, will they not consider some alternative to this cut, which saves only a comparatively few dollars?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until I answer another series of Questions on this matter in a moment.

24.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the widespread concern about, and opposition to, the cut in newsprint decided on by the Government, he will have the position re-investigated with the object of reversing a policy liable to misunderstanding in Canada and elsewhere, involving unfair discrimination against a particular industry, and likely to endanger regular future supplies of the material on which the future expansion of the British Press depends.

No, Sir. The whole circumstances have been very carefully examined, but owing to the present difficulties of our balance of payments, a reduction in imports must be made. There is no question of discrimination against a particular industry; this is a case where economies can be made without undue hardship to the public or reduction of our power to export.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend not aware of the fact that public opinion is most seriously disturbed about this newsprint cut? Is he further aware of the fact that we may well be squeezed out of the Canadian market for newsprint as a result of the Government's policy, and, again, that small independent newspapers may be driven into monopolies, which is entirely opposed to the policy for which this Government stands?

I am fully aware of all those arguments, which were put forward when the matter was being discussed. I am also aware that the newspapers naturally have a good opportunity of making the most of this cut.

In view of the fact that this decision affects many Government Departments, was this decision to cut newsprint a Cabinet or a Departmental decision?

Are we to understand that these restrictions are coming into effect immediately; that on Monday there will be a cut in the size of all the newspapers—definitely on Monday?

I understand it has been arranged to introduce the new regime on 21st July.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Would this be the right moment to ask you in those circumstances and in view of that answer, to consider a notice of Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 8 on a definite matter of urgent public importance?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman can raise it after Questions if he so chooses, and then I shall have an opportunity meanwhile of considering it.

It the right hon. and learned Gentleman is going to raise the matter after Questions, we had better continue with Questions.

25, 26 and 27.

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) whether in view of the statement of the Newsprint Supply Company that the restriction of imports, which begins on Monday, will involve the cancellation of longterm contracts with North American mills, the Government will urgently reconsider the position;

(2) what action His Majesty's Government proposes to take, in conjunction with the Newsprint Supply Company, to honour the contracts made with North American mills for 150,000 tons of newsprint in 1947, 180,000 tons in 1948 and 300,000 tons in 1949, in view of the new restriction on imports;

(3) whether in view of the fact that the new restriction on newsprint supplies, in- volving a return to smaller papers and other disabilities will effect a dollar saving of only £1 million in the next six months, the Government will withdraw the restriction.

The Newsprint Supply Company have been informed that they may proceed by way of postponing deliveries of some 48,000 tons of newsprint due for delivery from North America during the coming six months, which will involve a saving of about £1,100,000 in Canadian dollars. There cannot be any commitment as to deliveries of these or any further quantities later, but I shall be ready to re-examine the whole matter by the beginning of next year in the light of the general balance of payments position as it then is. In these circumstances, the Newsprint Supply Company will no doubt consider with their suppliers what adjustments are necessary in their present contracts. With regard to the third Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge).

Are we to understand that these contracts remain and are not cancelled, but merely deferred; and if it is a fact of deferment, have the Canadian and Newfoundland mills been consulted, or is it merely a term, "deferment of contract," without consultation with the people to whom the contract was given on the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend?

There is no question of cur breaking a contract, because we have not any. The Newsprint Supply Company have been informed that there will not be the dollars available for the quantity of paper I have mentioned, and it has been suggested to them that they should adjust the contract.

Am I right in estimating that a similar saving in dollars could be effected by a cut of one-seventeenth in the import of American films, and would it not be more in the national interest to impose such a cut than to inflict such Draconian restrictions on the British Press?

I think it is extremely doubtful whether anything would be saved at all by cutting the importation of even half the American films; they would then collect the same sum of money on half the number of films.

May I ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he has considered cutting tobacco by another million pounds in order to make this saving, because he cuts it in very large figures£10 million at a time£so why not cut £11 million, and so avoid this cut?

We considered that it would be undue discrimination against the tobacco smoker and tobacco trade if they were asked to carry more than the 25 per cent. reduction they have already had imposed upon them.

Could I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether or not this long-term contract running till 1959 was made with the Newfoundland mills on a written statement of the Government that dollars would be available?

There was, I understand, a statement made. I am not quite sure whether it was in writing or not, but there was a statement made that dollars would be available and, had the circumstances been different, they would have been.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is a suspicion in many people's minds—by no means all opponents of the Government—that the action of the Government cannot be dissociated from their well-known dislike of and contempt for the popular Press, and that they are doing this deliberately?

I am afraid I cannot prevent suspicion coming into the mind of anybody who is suspicious, but it is quite clear that the Government are taking this action in order to deal with the balance of payments and not with the Press.

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is an actual fact that before Lord Layton undertook the negotiations with Canadian suppliers, he had in his possession a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend stating in the most specific terms that import licences and exchange facilities for a five-year agreement would be available, and that is the basis upon which those negotiations took place?

I understand that is quite accurate; circumstances, unfortunately, have altered since.

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman considered that while this is not discrimination against a particular industry, it is discrimination against the whole public? Democracy cannot function without adequate information, and adequate information cannot be given with the present space available in the Press.

Are we to gather from the President's reply that he seriously does not distinguish between smoking and the power of the Press and the importance of the Press; and does he realise that this will mean the closing of the doors to young journalists and ex-Service men about to make their way, and that the whole House, I think, feels the intolerance and the mistake of this decision?

With regard to these supplementary questions, I should like to point out that this Question only deals with the cancellation of a contract.

May I ask the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the fact that a perfectly plain statement from the Government that dollars would be available has been gone back on, in future any contract entered into and based on an absolutely unequivocal statement by the Government must be qualified to mean "unless we think it is not right to do it later."

I think that in all cases where there are emergency conditions arising as regards balance of payments, the Government must be able to take what action they think best for the country.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker; owing to the extremely unsatisfactory replies given by my right hon. and learned Friend, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

At the end of Questions:

In consequence of the answer given earlier today by the President of the Board of Trade, I ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance involving the administrative responsibility of the Government, namely, the immediate reduction in the allocation of newsprint to the Press. Before I bring this Motion to the Chair, would you allow me, Mr. Speaker, to make a respectful submission—first, that it is definite, because it involves the restriction of newsprint to all newspapers in this country—

The right hon. and learned Gentleman had better make his submission after he has brought the Motion to the Chair, if necessary. To make it before I give a decision would appear to be unnecessary.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me for leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance involving the responsibility of the Government, namely, the immediate reduction in the allocation of newsprint to the Press. To be quite candid with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the only new point that I can see here is that arising from the word "immediate." The matter was discussed on 8th July on the general question of the restriction of imports, but I find it rather hard, as a matter of fact, to give a decision on this. The point, I quite realise, centres round the word "immediate," and the Debate is to be confined to the allocation of newsprint to the Press and not on the general question of the restriction of imports of paper. On those grounds, I think I should be justified in asking if the right hon. and learned Gentleman has the leave of the House.

The pleasure of the House having been signified, the Motion stood over, under Standing Order No. 8, until Seven o'Clock this evening.

Factories, Grantham (Allocation)

18.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he intends to continue with the re-allocation of Grantham Productions, Limited, to the Cotton Syndicate, in view of the fact that Mr. Westbrook has retired from the syndicate and will, therefore, not be available as managing director of the proposed new company.

Will the President of the Board of Trade set up an inquiry into how this procedure took place and how the original makers of the "people's car" were pushed out of business?

The original producers were not pushed out of business. They went into liquidation. The question then arose as to who should take the factory on and whether they should continue making cars. Various people came forward. The gentleman mentioned in the Question was one of them. It was found afterwards that he could not complete the transaction.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what will now be done with the factory?

I cannot say until we get the fresh applications in after this application has been cancelled.

19.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if, before the reallocation of the factory site of Grantham Productions to the Cotton Syndicate, steps were taken by his Department to ensure either that prompt payment was made or adequate security given for the large sum of money owing by Grantham Productions for Income Tax.

No, Sir. The Revenue claim was left, as it should be left, to take its usual ranking among the genera] body of creditors.

Can the President say how this company managed to retain £23,000 due to the Revenue in P.A.Y.E.?