Skip to main content

National Finance

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 31 May 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Tobacco (Mobile Shops)

46.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will give special consideration, in the granting of excise licences for the sale of tobacco, to those mobile shops used only on prepared sites on which but for building restrictions there would now be a permanent shop.

No, Sir. I am advised that licences can be granted only in respect of "premises," and that mobile shops are not premises.

While I appreciate some of the difficulties in this matter, does not my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that there are cases in new estates or in blitzed areas where the absence of permanent premises creates considerable inconvenience? Could he not have a special look at this aspect of the matter?

It has been looked at. The matter is very complicated. It would need a lot of legislation, and I do not think it would give a very satisfactory result.

Balance Of Payments

47.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if in view of the changed world price levels, both of raw materials and manufactured goods, he is still satisfied that the estimate given by His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom balance of payments at the end of this year is correct.

In view of the fall in world prices, particularly of basic metals, which is not reflected by any similar fall in this country does not the Chancellor of the Exchequer think it will be very difficult for many exporters to reach their targets?

That is a completely different question from that as to whether an estimate is to be realised.

Coal Exports

48.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the amount of foreign currency accruing to this country in the last financial year through the sale of coal overseas.

Sales of coal to countries outside the scheduled territories in the last financial year amounted to about £37 million.

As this most welcome addition to our resources has been achieved by selling coal at the maximum price possible, is it to be assumed from the Chancellor's answer that he agrees with that, or does he want the National Coal Board to do the same as private enterprise—cut down profits?

There is nothing to be assumed from my answer except that the figure was £37 million.

Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how much of that £37 million was hard currency?

Does the right hon. Gentleman think the amount received for that tonnage sold was frightfully high or not?

As the price received was the highest possible, does not that mean that the Chancellor thinks it is the duty of exporters to get whatever they can for their exports?

I have always stated that it was advantageous to earn as much foreign currency as we could.

Tourists (Currency)

49.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what reason it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to allow a drain on the gold reserves of this country, through the provision of currency for tourists.

In order to arrive at a satisfactory general agreement with certain countries.

Exporting Industries (Profits)

50.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state the average profit margins of the 10 largest exporting industries.

If the Chancellor cannot give figures will he consider issuing an explanation of his allegation of "frightfully high and enormous profits"—an allegation which the best-known weekly economic paper described as "Not the words of an economist but those of a rabble-rouser"?

I am afraid I am not concerned with what either the Press or the Leader of the Opposition says. The information is not available and I could not give any explanation because the facts are not available.

Company Reserves

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the £1,215,000,000 profits which, as stated by him, had been put to reserve by companies, was a gross estimate prior to provision for taxation, or whether it represented the residue after allowance for taxation.

52.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much of the £1,215,000,000 stated by him as having been put to extra reserve by companies last year represented provision for taxation.

I would refer the hon. Gentlemen to Table 6 of the White Paper on National Income and Expenditure (Cmd. 7649).

If the Chancellor had wanted to give a really factual picture would he not have taken the lesser figure rather than the larger?

No, Sir, because the whole of the contents of the larger figure was, in fact, achieved by the price of the articles sold.

Is it not clear after all this that the Chancellor's general insinuation in his Second Reading speech on the Finance Bill, that profits were largely responsible for high prices, was, to say the least of it, undesirable and dishonest?

The noble Lord must learn to ask courteous questions if he wishes for replies.

Of course, I shall try to match my question to the courtesy of the replies we receive. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider the sum of £500 million net which was actually put to reserve to be excessive in view of the demands that are to be made on industry for re-equipment?

Of course, one must divide it up into different industries. In some cases it may have been excessive and in others not. It is not the same in every industry. It varies. Some make much bigger profits than others. What I stated was that this large volume of profits could enable some industries in some articles to reduce the export price.

From the right hon. and learned Gentleman's previous answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) are we to understand that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman said "frightfully high" what he meant was "very fair"?

I am afraid not, because I consider that they are in some cases frightfully high.

Do not the figures of profits show that they are approximately 16 per cent. of the turnover value of a large percentage of public companies?

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman criticised my method of asking a question of him through you, Mr. Speaker, and my use of the two adjectives "undesirable" and "dishonest," may I now ask him if he is aware that they were applied by him to an hon. Member on this side of the House in the Debate.

British Railways (Disputes)

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour if he has any further statement to make about the strike in the North Eastern Region of the British Railways, and if he has any information about the "go-slow" movement in Manchester and Nine Elms.

Yes, Sir. I have been informed by the Railway Executive that they held a meeting this morning with the representatives of the Executives of the two Unions concerned in the Sunday strikes in the North Eastern Region. I understand that the Executives of the Unions are now considering the views expressed to them by the Railway Executive.

As regards the second part of the Question, I am informed that both at the London Road Goods Station, Manchester, and at the Nine Elms Goods Depot, London, certain of the workers have decided to adopt a "go-slow" policy in order to register dissatisfaction at the alleged delay in dealing with their claim for increased pay. As the House may be aware, I saw the negotiating Committee of the N.U.R. on Thursday last, at their request, as they desired to place before me information about the position that had been reached in their negotiations with the Railway Executive on the wage claim. On Friday morning I was able to transmit that information to the Railway Executive, and I can inform the House that the Railway Executive yesterday addressed to the Unions signatory to their agreement, including the N.U.R., a written notification that they were prepared to continue negotiations.

I am sure the House will appreciate the extreme undesirability of any comment that might prejudice the position or embarrass the parties, but I feel I should make it clear that I cannot countenance the action that has been decided on by the workers in Nine Elms and Manchester. Such action can only impede; it cannot assist negotiations. Public opinion will be alienated and the authority of the Union to speak for its members will be brought into question.

I am sure nobody wants to embarrass the situation, but I am equally sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is becoming an extremely serious one, especially in respect of Nine Elms and the station in Manchester. Can he explain how it is that if this communication was sent yesterday, as he told us it was, by the Railway Executive to the N.U.R. there should be on the following day a "go-slow" movement which, according to our information, is causing a hold-up in a wide variety of exports and deliveries not to be made on time?

Yes, Sir. The communication was sent yesterday night, and I said it was received this morning. We know it was received this morning. Therefore, up to that point the Union was not able to inform its members before their decision last night to take this action. I most sincerely hope that some notice will be taken of the fact that now the Union has got into negotiation, and that there is no need to make use of any kind of unofficial action to speed up negotiations which have, in fact, started.

Is the Minister not aware that these negotiations in connection with wages have been going on for a long, long time? Is it possible to give one solitary case of workers' demands being met without such long-drawn-out negotiations?

Yes, Sir, and if time permitted I could recite a long, long list of cases in which complaints of infringements of union practice and principles have been settled. Similarly, we can show that where men have been encouraged to take unofficial action it has delayed settlement, and not encouraged it at all.

In view of the fact that the Minister has told us that this decision was taken yesterday, and that a communication was to be made, could not means have been found so that the men could have been told before this morning, which probably would have prevented the action which has been taken?

The decision of the Executive was taken after the communication. We have been using our influence to speed things up. I think they have moved very quickly since we met last week. As to why the Executive could not pass it over late last night instead of this morning, that it a matter of detail which I cannot answer.

It is not quite that. This matter is having a considerable effect already. Why was it that the Railway Executive could not communicate with the Union until last night?

I understand that after my taking the steps to keep the parties together, there were some informal talks to clear a small difficulty out of the way before the negotiations were got going. There is the railway machinery for negotiation, which all parties want to retain uninjured. Therefore, we had to be careful that no steps were taken that would damage the operation of that machinery. I admit that it is a little slow, but we will do what we can to speed it up.

Division No. 157.]

AYES

[3.40 p.m.

Acland, Sir RichardDaggar, G.Haworth, J.
Adams, Richard (Balham)Daines, P.Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)
Albu, A. H.Davies, Edward (Burslem)Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Herbison, Miss M.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Davies, Harold (Leek)Hicks, G.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell)Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)Hobson, C. R.
Attewell, H. C.Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Deer, G.Horabin, T. L.
Awbery, S. S.Delargy, H. J.Houghton, A. L. N. D. (Sowerby)
Ayles, W. H.Dodds, N. N.Hubbard, T.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Driberg, T. E. N.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)
Bacon, Miss A.Dumpleton, C. W.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)
Balfour, A.Dye, S.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W)
Barstow, P. G.Edelman, M.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Barton, C.Edwards, John (Blackburn)Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Battley, J. R.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)
Bechervaise, A. E.Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)Irving, W. J. (Tottenham N)
Benson, G.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Isaacs, Rt. Hon G. A.
Beswick, F.Evans, John (Ogmore)Janner, B.
Bing, G. H. C.Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Jeger, G. (Winchester)
Binns, J.Fairhurst, F.Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)
Blackburn, A. R.Farthing, W. J.Jenkins, R. H.
Blyton, W. R.Fernyhough, E.Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)
Boardman, H.Foot, M. M.Keenan, W.
Bottomley, A. G.Forman, J. C.Kenyon, C.
Bowen, R.Freeman, J. (Watford)Key, Rt. Hon C. W.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)Freeman, Peter (Newport)Kinley, J.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Gallacher, W.Kirby, B. V.
Bramall, E. A.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Lang, G.
Brook, D. (Halifax)George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Gibbins, J.Lee, F. (Hulme)
Brown, George (Belper)Gilzean, A.Leslie, J. R.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Lewis, T. (Southampton)
Brown, W. J. (Rugby)Gordon-Walker, P. C.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)Logan, D. G.
Burden, T. W.Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Longden, F.
Burke, W. A.Grenfell, D. R.Lyne, A. W.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Grey, C. F.McAdam, W.
Carmichael, JamesGrierson, E.McAlister, G.
Chamberlain, R. A.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)McEntee, V. La T.
Champion, A. J.Guest, Dr. L. HadenMcGhee, H. G.
Chetwynd, G. R.Gunter, R. J.Mack, J. D.
Cluse, W. S.Guy, W. H.McKay, J. (Wallsend)
Cocks, F. S.Hale, LeslieMackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W)
Colman, Miss G. M.Hall, Rt. Hon. GlenvilMcKinlay, A. S.
Comyns, Dr. L.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Maclean, N. (Govan)
Cook, T. F.Hannan, W. (Maryhill)MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Cooper, G.Hardman, D. R.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Corlett, Dr. J.Hardy, E. A.Macpherson, T. (Romford)
Cove, W. G.Harrison, J.Mainwaring, W. H.

If, as appears probable, there is likely to be a serious interruption of communications during the Whitsun holidays, will the right hon. Gentleman see that the public are warned in time, to minimise inconvenience?

I can only hope that such a contingency will not arise, but it is not my business to warn the public. I hope they will taken notice of the Questions asked in this House.