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Trade And Commerce

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 12 May 1949

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Government Surplus Stores (Resale)

4.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he takes to prevent profiteering in the resale of Government surplus stores which have been auctioned.

Traders who sell Government surplus goods which have been bought at Ministry of Supply auctions are not exempt from price control, and a warning to this effect is given whenever price controlled goods are sold by auction. I do not think any other action is required. No complaints of alleged breaches of price control regulations in respect of such goods have been received for some considerable time by the local price regulation committees.

Wood Pulp

6.

asked the President of the Board of Trade for an estimate of what loss would be involved if he released for current use at the present market price the Government stock of wood pulp for the production of all descriptions of paper.

It would not be in accord with normal practice to give this information.

Would it be very far wide of the mark to say that altogether the figure is about £3 million; could the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether further purchases are being made on contract to build up more stocks; and when will he be able to tell the paper trade as a whole that they will be free to go ahead and make their own contracts at market prices?

I make no comment on the first statement. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to put down a Question on the second.

Does the hon. Gentleman's answer imply that the Department is committed to further bulk buying on a falling market?

It implies nothing of the kind. I ask that that question also should be put down.

In view of the fact that the majority of this pulp is of Finnish origin, does it not go against the Government's plans for trade with Canada that this stock should be overhanging the market?

Footwear (American Markets)

7.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will supply the boot and shoe industry with information as to the type of footwear of British make in demand in the American markets; and if the boot and shoe industry is assured of the quantity and quality of leather which will enable the increased export pairage to be produced.

The Board of Trade is always ready to provide exporters with the fullest available information about products in demand in the United States, Canada, and other markets. They are at present in close touch with the footwear industry about its plans for increased sales in North America. Every effort will continue to be made to supply the industry with the quantity and quality of leather necessary for increased exports to these markets.

How can the Minister expect boot manufacturers in this country to export large quantities of footwear to the United States when boot manufacturers here are paying 30 per cent. more for their leather than their competitors in the United States, owing to the Government's methods of bulk purchase?

I appreciate the difficulty, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to understand that the difficulties of buying leather, particularly in countries like the Argentine, are very great indeed.

If the hon. Gentleman is not able to use plain English will he explain what he means by the extraordinary term to which my hon. and learned Friend called attention? What is the meaning of it?

Is not my hon. Friend aware that when a member of the boot and shoe trade asks a Question about that trade he uses the terms that are used in the trade?

Fireguards (Steel Allocation)

8.

asked the President of the Board of Trade why the allocation of steel for the manufacture of fire guards to Messrs. Smith Brothers, 64 Clement Street, Birmingham, has been reduced; and if, in view of the statutory obligation to provide fireguards and the existing shortage, he will increase the allocation and obviate the necessity of workers already engaged upon this work being displaced.

As I have already told my hon. Friend in my letter to him of 11th April, there is, so far as I know now, no shortage of fireguards. In these circumstances we have not been able to continue the specially large allocations of steel which were made to overcome the shortage last year. We are, however, reviewing the allocations of steel to the makers of these articles and I hope that some small improvement may be possible in the next quarter.

While I appreciate that answer, I did gather it to mean that 14 per cent. of retailers did not stock these fireguards, and in view of the fact that women who are anxious to go out and do a job of work fear to leave their children exposed to danger without this very necessary protection, will the Minister take steps to see that this steel allocation is increased?

I should make it plain that the retailers non-stock index for fireguards has fallen from 43 per cent. in 1946 to about 14 per cent. at the present time. We have, in fact, had no complaints for over a year about the shortage of any type of fireguard. If my hon. Friend has any case he would like me to examine perhaps he will let me have particulars.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary examine how far this affects employment; and is the Board of Trade keeping in constant touch on this allocation of steel in order to prevent a rise in unemployment in various industries?

Certainly, and I have no reason to suppose that there is any risk of unemployment in this trade at the present time.

Mexico

9.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if special effort is contemplated with the object of the development of Anglo-Mexican trade; if he is satisfied that the present commercial diplomatic establishment in Mexico is adequate for this purpose; and if instructions will be issued for the exploitation of the Mexican market in the interests of British export trade.

I am anxious that United Kingdom exporters should do their utmost to increase their sales to Mexico, which is a dollar market, and if the hon. Member has any specific suggestions to make I shall be glad to examine them. The commercial diplomatic establishment in Mexico has recently been reviewed and strengthened and I am satisfied that it is adequate for the purpose.

Is the Minister aware that in Mexico there is a great desire to cultivate expanding trade with this country; and is he satisfied that our present commercial diplomatic establishment and secretariat are equal to pressing that forward in Mexico?

Yes, Sir, I think so. As I said, we have recently strengthened our secretariat there.

Czechoslovakia

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the potential trade development between this country and Czechoslovakia; and if he considers the present provision for British commercial diplomatic establishment in that country adequate to the development of reciprocal trade possibilities.

As to the first part of the Question, a Czechoslovak delegation of trade and financial experts is expected to arrive in London at the end of this month, and the whole question of Anglo-Czechoslovak commercial and financial relations will then come under review. The answer to the second part of the Question is "Yes, Sir."

Does the Parliamentary Secretary not realise the importance of the Anglo-Czechoslovak trade which existed before the debacle took place in Czechoslovakia; and is he doing everything possible in the Board of Trade to restore the generous understanding between the two countries which prevailed then?

During these negotiations will the Minister bear in mind that large sums in debts are owing by the Czech Government to traders in this country; and will he bracket these two questions together when he is considering this matter?

Certainly. I would point out that at the present time we have no trade agreement with Czechoslovakia, partly because of the fact to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred.

Will the Minister also bear in mind that the Spitfires of the Israeli Air Force appear to have been sold to Israel by Czechoslovakia—

On a point of Order. Owing to the fact that I was unable to complete my sentence, it was impossible for me to say that these Spitfires appear to have been sold to Israel by Czechoslovakia, to whom we had previously sold them, and—

Spain

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is satisfied that the provision of the British commercial diplomatic establishment in Spain is adequate for the potential expansion of the Spanish market for British export trade; and if full encouragement is being given to the extension of Anglo-Spanish trade development.

I am satisfied that the staff in the commercial department of the British Embassy in Madrid is sufficient to promote the development of healthy trade relations with Spain. The answer to the second part of the Question is "Yes, Sir."

But what about Barcelona and the other great cities in Spain with which we traded before the trouble with Spain arose; is not the Minister anxious to cultivate our trade with Spain in every way possible?

Certainly, but I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that at the present time Spain is very short of sterling, and that is limiting our trade prospects in that country.

Indonesia

12.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will give an assurance that in concluding the Trade Agreement with the Netherlands providing for an expansion of trade with Indonesia care was taken by his Department to ensure that the sale of goods purchased from this country and stocked in Singapore was not prejudiced by that agreement.

Yes, Sir. My Department was well aware of the importance of the traditional entrepôt trade of Singapore, and as was stated in my reply to the hon. Member's question of 3rd May, this trade is not prejudiced by the trade arrangements recently concluded with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that, quite contrary to what he has said on this occasion or the other it has done and is doing great harm to the entrepôt trade, and that representations have been made to him by chambers of commerce, both native and European; and will he review this question and give me an answer which is a little nearer to the facts?

I do not accept the view that this trade agreement is the cause of the difficulties of the entrepôt trade at the present time. I think that is to be explained by other causes, into which I cannot now go.

In view of the very unsatisfactory and, as I believe, rather glorified case which the Minister has put up, I beg to give notice that I shall endeavour to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the first possible occasion.