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Trade And Commerce

Volume 466: debated on Thursday 23 June 1949

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Eastern Europe


asked the President of the Board of Trade what special measures, comparable with those taken to develop exports to America, are proposed in respect of trade with the countries of Eastern Europe.

No comparable measures are proposed because the same considerations do not apply.

As it is now generally recognised that in our country we are facing an economic disaster unparalled in our history—[Laughter.] Let us remember that laughter from the Opposition—and as it is obvious that nothing can save us but a vast expansion of Eastern European—

This supplementary question is not asking for information but is merely arguing, and that is not in Order at Question Time.

May I complete my question, Sir? Will the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that nothing can save us but some departure from the normal routine he follows in Eastern Europe, and some real attempt to get some trade going?

We have no difficulty in providing sufficient exports to pay for all the goods we are able to import from Eastern Europe. That is not the position in the dollar area, and we therefore need special efforts to increase dollar exports.

British Industries Fair (Home Buyers)


asked the President of the Board of Trade why the number of home buyers attending the British Industries Fair in 1948 is given in the Board of Trade Journal of 21st May, 1949, as 107,000 whereas in the Board of Trade Journal of 22nd May, 1948, the numbers attending in 1948 were given as 220,000.

Turnstile readings of home trade and public attendance were issued in 1948 to satisfy demands for immediate information. As experience has shown that these figures involve duplication, later statements, including those issued in connection with the 1949 Fair, have as far as possible been based on the number of badges sold.

Are these figures to be taken as typical of the accuracy of the Government's figures?

No, Sir. The figures that were given were in answer to a particular Question and were accurate, based on turnstile readings. If, however, figures on comparable bases over the two years are taken they show a considerable increase in home buyers this year.

Footwear (Profit Margins)


asked the President of the Board of Trade what further reductions in the profit margins allowed to footwear manufacturers he proposes to make, in view of the excessive profits earned by footwear manufacturers.

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the answer given to the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) on this subject on 24th May.

Can the President of the Board of Trade give an assurance that the present margins will not continue to yield excessive profits and impose unnecessary burdens upon parents with families of young children?

I can certainly give an assurance that we are watching these margins all the time. As my hon. Friend knows, not very long ago we reduced the margins on the distribution of footwear.

Are any steps being taken to recover from these firms some of the public subsidies which were used to inflate their own private profits?

Those subsidies refer, of course, to utility leather, and are a different consideration.

To what extent are these large profits due to the continued rise in the price of raw materials; and if they are due to that, is there not likely to be a general rise in world prices?

Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that the profits of boot manufacturers are due entirely to profits on the distributive side, which are in a different category?

Newsprint (Price)


asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will substantially reduce the price of newsprint to enable an increase in the size of newspapers to be financially possible in the near future.

The maximum price at which newsprint may be sold is at present under review and I hope to be able to issue a new Control Order in the near future.

While welcoming that reply, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is aware that, unless there is a substantial reduction in the price it will not be possible for newspapers to take advantage of the increased supply; and will he bear that in mind in fixing the revised allocation?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will await the new order which I hope to issue as soon as possible.

Paper Supplies (Football Pools)


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will now take steps to annul Section 2 of the Paper (Use in Betting Schemes) Order, 1947.

As the order referred to in the previous Question, which helps magazines and papers, does not affect this position, will he look into the matter again?

No, Sir. The new order relates to newsprint and will not affect the supply of paper for football pools. If we were to annul this section I am quite satisfied that there would be an increase in the amount of canvassing by football pools, which I am sure none of us wants to encourage.


asked the President of the Board of Trade what paper allocation is made to each of the chief pool promoters; for what purposes this allocation is made; and whether, in view of a substantial part of it having recently been used for political propaganda, he will revise the quota in the case of each firm which has used its allowed tonnage for this purpose.

The football pool promoters are at present allowed to use paper for the purpose of operating their businesses to the extent of 1.25 per cent. of their pre-war consumption. There is no restriction on the amount of paper which they may acquire and use for the purposes referred to by my hon. Friend and I could not therefore reduce, on this account, the quantity licensed to each firm.

Speaking generally, can my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that these football pool promoting firms have been keeping within their proper quota of paper; and if he is not satisfied that they have been doing that, will he call for a report from them?

So far as the quota of paper for their business purposes is concerned, we are watching that very carefully, and if I receive any evidence that they are not keeping within their quota I shall, of course, take immediate action. The paper referred to by my hon. Friend was for another purpose, over which we have no control.

Could the right hon. Gentleman say, for the information of the House and his hon. Friend, when political propaganda first became unpopular with the Socialist Party?

Has my right hon. Friend yet got any information from local authorities as to the degree to which the paper salvage drive has profited by this campaign?

Hosiery Controller


asked the President of the Board of Trade the present functions of the Controller of Hosiery; what is his present salary; and what personal expenses did he incur during 1948.

The functions of the Hosiery Controller are, in general, to advise the Board of Trade and assist manufacturers in all matters relating to the hosiery industry, and in particular to allocate yarns, ensure the maximum production of hosiery practicable for export, and secure a proper balance among the various types of hosiery goods produced for the home market. The Controller is unpaid and received no personal expenses during 1948.

Can the President of the Board of Trade say for how long we are to have this volunteer controller?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many staff this official employs on a pay basis; or are they all voluntary?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, and will he state publicly, that this controller is one of the shrewdest businessmen who serve the country, that he has done a magnificent job, that the people in the industry welcome his work, and that his Department is one of the most efficiently run?

Yes, Sir. I am fully aware of that, and so are the trade. I hope the hon. Gentleman will have a little tête-à-tête with his hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) on this matter.

Does the Minister realise that perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) is a candidate for this particular office?

Mission, Argentina (Cost)


asked the President of the Board of Trade the cost so far in Argentina of the present trade mission to the Argentine Government; and whether their local expenses have been paid in non-convertible or convertible sterling.

The cost so far in Argentina of the present trade mission is about £8,600, all paid in pesos purchased from non-convertible sterling.

Cotton Purchase, Usa


asked the President of the Board of Trade the total expenditure made, and to be made, in dollars for cotton purchased from the United States of America during the six months ended 31st May, 1949.

As I informed the hon. Member on 17th June, 1948, I cannot give information about purchases made of particular growths by the Raw Cotton Commission.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is great anxiety as to the amount in dollars that is going out for this, against the amount of dollars that may be coming in; and will he not realise that it is in the public interest occasionally to give these figures, as has been done in the case of other commodities?

No, Sir. I think that to publish figures for the currency available for the purchase of any particular type of cotton would greatly hamper our buying policy. That would apply equally whether we were buying on public or private account.

Standardisation (Committee)


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has considered what contribution standardisation can make to economy of production and to the well-being of the country; and what action he proposes to take in the matter.

Yes, Sir. We are fully alive to the economic contribution which standardisation can make, both by savings in production costs and by guarantees to the consumer. We have given much consideration to the question and are convinced that our policy should be to encourage the progress of standardisation by every means in our power and to look to industry, working with and through the British Standards Institution, to do the work. We are fully conscious of the great progress industry and the B.S.I. are making, but we have felt that we should do everything within our power to help and stimulate it. It was for this reason that, for example, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, as announced by him in the House on 22nd November last, in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend, set up a committee of representatives of industry under Sir Ernest Lemon to investigate how reduction in the variety of engineering products and components could be carried further and faster.

It is clear, however, that further advances in standardisation, whether in the engineering field or elsewhere, will not be obtained without a good deal of hard work and careful technical examination, and without the fullest co-operation of industry in the drafting and adoption of Standards. This will mean that the B.S.I. will have more work to do and will assume an even more important place in the economy of the country than it does at present, and it will create problems of organisation and finance. The question of an increased grant from the Government will have to be considered, but it seems necessary first that the constitution and functions of the Institution should be reviewed in the light of the policy I have announced, and I have, therefore, appointed a Committee, the terms of reference and the membership of which I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a campaign was run on these lines at least 40 years ago, and can he say why no further progress has been made since then?

I am not responsible for 36 of those years, but I think more progress has been made with standardisation, particularly in the field of those goods and building materials controlled by my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works, in the last four years than during the whole of the previous 36 years.

Will the President of the Board of Trade bear in mind that standardisation has some disadvantages, that we should be cautious before becoming too enthusiastic about it, and that one of the disadvantages is that when a standard becomes firmly set, it sometimes becomes an obstacle to changes?

I am fully aware of that and for the need of having some degree of consumer choice, but far too many of the existing types are very much set in their ways, allowing an unreasonable degree of consumer choice in matters of size and specification which no one now considers necessary.

Following are the terms of reference:

"To consider the organisation and constitution of the British Standards Institution, including its finance, in the light of the increasing importance of standardisation and the extended size and volume of work likely to fall on the B.S.I. in future and to make recommendations."

Mr. Geoffrey Cunliffe has agreed to act as Chairman of this Committee, and the B.S.I. have promised their warm co-operation in its work. The other members of the Committee are:

Sir William Palmer, K. B.E., C.B., British Rayon Federation.

A. V. Nicolle, Esq., The Automotive Engineering Co., Ltd.

Roger Duncalfe, Esq., British Glues & Chemicals, Ltd.

E. P. Harries, Esq., Trades Union Congress.

O. W. Humphreys, Esq., General Electric Co., Ltd.

Sir Ernest Lemon, Chairman of the Ministry of Supply Committee on Engineering Standardisation.