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Trade And Commerce

Volume 466: debated on Thursday 7 July 1949

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Resale Price Maintenance (Committee)

2.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what are the qualifications of the members of the committee appointed to consider resale price maintenance.

The members of the committee were chosen for the individual contributions they could make in the inquiry into resale price maintenance, and not in any representative capacity. With the hon. Member's permission I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement of their qualifications.

When the right hon. Gentleman is considering the proposals of this committee, will he bear in mind the strong Left-wing bias of some of the principal members of this committee and the fact that one of its members was so biased that he felt himself free to comment on the subject of this report to the Fabian Society while he was still sitting as a member of the committee?

I am not aware of any Left-wing bias in the membership of this committee. I should be very surprised and interested to hear that the Opposition were opposed to the recommendations of this committee, which are designed to stop restrictive practices on the part of private traders.

Is it not most unfortunate, if it be the case, that while this matter was still being considered a member of the committee should publish something for the Fabian Society, because the whole matter is of the utmost importance and it is most desirable to have a strong report on this subject by a plainly unbiased committee?

Would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, for the House to be advised how the question of a statement by an undisclosed member of this committee to a body outside arises out of a Question on the Order Paper which is directed only to the qualifications of members?

It is not for me to say how it arises. There are insinuations and implications in these supplementary questions which I do not like very much.

Further to the point of Order. May I, with permission, say that it was only when the suggestion of lack of bias was made that I had to draw attention to the example of very clear bias?

Further to that point of Order, surely it is perfectly in Order, when a question of qualifications and bias is raised by the Minister himself, to point out that a member of the committee is writing to a Left-wing publication while the committee are considering the subject matter?

Further to that point of Order, if an hon. Member of this House wishes to get information about that sort of thing, would it not be playing more fairly with the gentleman concerned and with the House if he put that Question instead of some other Question on the Order Paper?

Is it now an understood thing that a member of an official committee is precluded from expressing his views, on a subject on which he is expert, in the public Press during the whole period in which that committee is sitting, or is it alleged that use has been made of private information in this regard? So far that has not been alleged and is not the case.

That is a little complicated. In these Questions one has to use a little moderation.

Following is the statement:

Mr. G. H. Lloyd Jacob, K.C. (Chairman): A leading counsel at the Patent Bar.

Managing Director of Stuart Advertising Agency; Founder-member of Advertising Service Guild; founder of Design Research Unit.

Alderman Mrs. L'Estrange Malone, J.P., M.A.: Member of the London County Council; former Vice-Chairman of the L.C.C. Social Welfare Public Assistance Committee.

Mr. John Ryan, C.B.E., M.C., M.A., B.Sc.: Vice-Chairman of Metal Box Co. Ltd.; Vice-Chairman of British Export Trade Research Organisation and of International Distribution Commission. Member of the Central Price Regulation Committee, of the Prices of Building Materials Committee (Ministry of Works) and of the Agricultural Marketing Committee.

Mr. H. G. Sharp, F.I.A., F.F.A.: Formerly Manager and Actuary of the Scottish Widows' Fund and Life Assurance Society.

Mr. Henry Smith, M.A.: Vice-Principal of Ruskin College, Oxford. Chairman of a Commission of Inquiry into the cost of living in Newfoundland. Author of "Retail Distribution" published in 1937; served with the Ministry of Food during the war as an economist with special knowledge of distribution.

Mr. R. E. Yeabsley, C.B.E., F.C.A., F.S.A.A.: Partner, Hill Vellacott & Co., Chartered Accountants; Accountant Advisor to the Board of Trade and to the Central Price Regulation Committee. Member of Hosiery Working Party 1945; of the Committee of Inquiry into Distribution of Building Materials and Components, 1946–48; of the Committee of Inquiry into the mineral resources of the United Kingdom, 1946; and of the Committee on High Court Procedure 1947.

Development Areas (Surveyors)

3.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he proposes to set up his own architectural and quantity surveying staff for carrying out architectural and quantity surveying work required for the trading estates in the Development Areas.

No, Sir. Arrangements for such work will continue to be a matter for the individual estate companies who employ outside consultants and, in some cases, have their own small architectural and quantity surveyor's department.

Newsprint (Weekly Newspapers)

4.

asked the President of the Board of Trade why it is permissible for a weekly newspaper to print nine pages of 405 square inches, whereas it is not permissible to print the equivalent area in pages of 305 square inches; and if he will take action to end this anomaly.

The detailed administration of the rationing of newsprint for newspapers is in the hands of the Newsprint Rationing Committee, which is composed of representatives of the newspaper publishers themselves. The committee have, with the approval of the Board of Trade, established the maximum number of pages for all types of newspaper. The maximum number of pages for a weekly newspaper of page size exceeding 250 square inches and selling at 2d. is nine, and this is not affected by any variation in the page size above 250 square inches.

Would my right hon. Friend consider giving a direction to this committee about the special case that has been put to him? Is he aware that when a newspaper cannot use the concession to revert to its pre-war page size, it has no means of taking advantage of the additional supply of paper that is being granted? Will my right hon. Friend consider making a concession on this point?

I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that the difficulty about this is that some size has to be fixed to differentiate one group from another and, whatever size is fixed, it will cause hardship. I will look into the question of reversion to an earlier size.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the point in this case is, that where a newspaper has changed its plant and cannot revert to its pre-war page size, it cannot get any advantage from the paper supply? Will he consider this as an exceptional case?

Footwear (Sweden)

5.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he has now reached agreement with the Swedish authorities about imports and exports of footwear in 1949.

It has not been possible to reach agreement with the Swedish authorities about imports and exports of footwear in 1949.

Leather Imports

6.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the amount and quality of upper leather available for boot and shoe manufacturers in Kettering are low; and what steps he is taking to improve the position.

I understand that there is sufficient leather to meet the general demand for footwear, but that some manufacturers may not be able to get all they would like of special types. In this respect, I do not think that the position in Kettering differs appreciably from that elsewhere. Heavy purchases of hides for upper leather have recently been made in the Argentine, and a substantial quantity of hides and skins has been provided for in the new Argentine agreement. I anticipate, therefore, that there will be a considerable improvement in the quantity of upper leather during the next few months.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the manufacturers in Kettering have now stocks for little more than a week and that they believe that a better quality of upper leather in larger quantities is available, either as skins or tanned, from France and that it has been offered to this country quite recently?

I am aware of the position in France. We are in discussion with the French authorities on this point and I hope to make an announcement in the very near future, but I am sure my hon. and learned Friend would not wish to suggest that we should take all the French supplies of leather without having a reasonable proportion of French supplies of skins for our own tanning industry.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider dispensing with some of the Government's system of bulk purchases of skins and leather and reverting to private purchase, which would result in a better supply?

That is an entirely separate question. If it were not, the answer would be, "No, Sir."

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the importance of getting upper leather from France is perhaps greater than the importance of getting wines from France?

Yes, Sir, but it is very much easier to get wines from France. While the discussions are still going on—and I hope to make an announcement shortly—I hope my hon. and learned Friend will not press for more information.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there are adequate supplies of leather at least to provide shoes for children, in view of the fact that if they run about barefoot there is grave danger of their becoming Presidents of the Board of Trade?

7 and 8.

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) what information he has about quantity, quality and price of upper leather, skins or tanned, available in France for export to this country; what are the figures of imports of upper leather from France recently, last year, and before the war; and what are the present restrictions on such imports;

(2) what are the figures of imports of upper leather from dollar countries, and from other countries excluding France, recently, last year, and before the war.

The information asked for by my hon. Friend on imports of upper leather is largely statistical, and I am sending him a statement on this matter. I understand that substantial quantities of certain types of leather may be available in France, but I have no precise information as to the quantity, quality or price. Under arrangements recently made, however, imports of leather from France are likely to be greater this year than last. A proportion of the leather to be imported from France will be subject to the condition that the goods made from it must be exported. The level of imports from all sources has to be determined with due regard to our international obligations in the field of commercial policy.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is possible to import upper leather tanned, as well as in skin?

European Trade

9.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement on the policy of His Majesty's Government in the matter of relaxing restrictions on intra-European trade.

Yes, Sir. I apologise for the length of this answer, but in view of the importance of the subject, I am sure the House would wish me to deal with it fairly fully.

I apologise for interrupting, but there are 80 Questions on the Paper. As it is clear that this answer is a very long one, could not the right hon. Gentleman read it at the end of Questions instead of now, in order to safeguard the position of other hon. Members?

If it were for the convenience of the House, and if you, Mr. Speaker, were so to authorise it, I should be prepared to read this answer at the end of Questions. I am sure, however, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would not in any sense wish to suggest that the statement which I am making is not a very important one with which the House would wish me to deal as fully as possible, but I will leave the matter in your hands, Mr. Speaker.

It is just because it is so important that I thought it ought to be a special pronouncement.

Was not a protest made from the benches opposite yesterday because a Minister asked permission to read a statement at the end of Questions?

Is it not a fact that in that case permission was asked to circulate the reply?

At the end of Questions

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. 9.

As the House will have realised from the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Monday last, His Majesty's Government have, during recent months, been considering the possibility of a substantial step forward towards closer and more efficient economic integration in Western Europe and towards a removal of obstacles to European trade, through a concerted effort by O.E.E.C. countries to remove or relax import licensing restrictions on each others' goods. These restrictions were originally imposed by individual countries to safeguard their balance of payments, but in the new European trading situation many of them have begun to outlive their purpose and are tending to hinder the recovery of trade. Their progressive removal, by giving an added incentive to producers and traders to improve their efficiency and to lower their costs and prices, would be of direct benefit to consumers as well as to exporting industries in the United Kingdom and other countries.

His Majesty's Government believe that the time has come when it should be possible for both the United Kingdom and other countries to take steps to relax progressively their restrictions on imports from sources outside the hard currency area to the fullest extent consistent with safeguarding their balance of payments. Indeed, they consider that in present circumstances a progressive freeing of European trade on a competitive and multilateral basis is desirable. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer therefore submitted proposals for action by O.E.E.C. countries on these lines to the O.E.E.C., which has now recommended such action to all its members.

I should make it clear that such a policy of removal of trade restrictions would have to be considered in relation to the settlement of certain other matters: First, the relaxations cannot be applied to countries with which they would cause balance of payments difficulties; in particular, our payments arrangements with countries to which they apply must be such as to avoid any spending of gold and dollars by the United Kingdom. Second, while in present circumstances we clearly cannot contemplate extending these relaxations to countries with whom our balance of payments is such that gold or dollar payments would be involved, we should need to be in a position to apply the relaxations wherever and whenever this could be done without creating new balance of payments difficulties. This raises certain questions in respect of our obligations to countries outside O.E.E.C. Third, while we should be prepared to take a lead in removing restrictions, how far we can go must depend on the extent to which other countries feel able to follow our lead and relax restrictions on their imports from us within such limits as their balance of payments may set.

Further, in deciding upon the list of goods to be freed from import restrictions, we shall have to bear in mind the legitimate interests of our own industries. What I have in mind is the existence in certain cases of severe restrictions on the quantities of goods which certain of our industries are free to put on the home market. It would obviously be unfair to permit producers in other countries to sell without restriction in the United Kingdom market so long as United Kingdom producers are subject to severe limitations of this kind; in such cases we could relax import controls only as and when the restrictions on our own producers could be relaxed.

It is not possible at this stage to say precisely what action may result from our initiative or how far we may be able to go, but I thought the House would wish to be informed at this stage of the steps that we have already taken.

As I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that, as a result of this move on the part of the Government, other countries had been recommended by the O.E.E.C. to try and take similar action, can he say whether anybody, except ourselves, has yet agreed to do so?

Yes, Sir. The discussion at O.E.E.C. was participated in by all the member countries, and all undertook to take this action.

As the Question on the Order Paper specifically relates to intra-European trade, but as the Minister appears to be talking merely about intra-Western European trade, is he bearing in mind the very important distinction, and is he doing something in regard to Eastern Europe as well?

I think the House is fully informed of what is being done by Western European countries to increase the volume of intra-European trade as well, but such action requires corresponding action by other countries.

Would it be true to say that the practical meaning of the right hon. Gentleman's statement is that we do not intend to make any relaxations at all upon imports, or, if we do, what relaxations does he intend?

We hope to have a very wide system of relaxations of quota restrictions on our imports, but I have made it clear that that cannot extend to cases which involve the loss of gold or dollars by this country.

In view of the qualification in my right hon. Friend's statement about our own industry, which must, of course, include our relationship with the industry of the Commonwealth and Empire, may we take it that these proposals will be discussed with the Commonwealth Finance Ministers next week?

Yes, Sir. Our friends in the Commonwealth and Empire have been kept fully informed, and I have no doubt that the Commonwealth Finance Ministers will wish to consider what we are doing in this matter.

Could the right hon. Gentleman give us the names of one or two commodities which he thinks he might allow into this country in greater quantities? If he cannot even do that, perhaps he can give us the names of one or two countries with whom we have no difficulties?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to put down that question. I should have thought he would have known at least one or two countries with whom we are not in balance-of-payment difficulties at this time. As far as individual commodities are concerned, so much depends, as I have already said, on the question of how far international obligations would stand in the way of a wide extension, that I should prefer not to make a statement about the commodities to be covered at this stage.

Apart from our new efforts in O.E.E.C., can my right hon. Friend say whether this country is continuing to be an active and effective member of the Economic Commission for Europe?

Yes, Sir, a fully active member, but if my hon. Friend wants to pursue the matter, I would point out that it is a separate question from the one we are now discussing.

If greater freedom is now to apply to trade, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is going to apply to travel also, and will he make a statement about what countries it will be easier to visit?

Publications (Paper Allocation)

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what paper quota is available to the "National News Letter" edited by Mr. Kenneth de Courcy; and how does this compare with the allocations made to similar publications.

I cannot give details of the paper allocation for any individual publication, but as far as I am aware Mr. de Courcy does not edit the "National News Letter."

"Aquitania" (Vacant Berths)

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in the interest of the tourist industry, he will request the Tourist Board to investigate why the "Aquitania" which arrived from the United States of America on 25th May had a large number of vacant berths, and to report to him.

No, Sir. I do not think it necessary to have such an investigation. I have, however, myself had inquiries made of the shipping company, and understand that the "Aquitania" is at present primarily used to carry emigrants to Canada. Its accommodation is of a more austere type than in other ships and it is less popular with passengers.

Yes, but is not the existence of these vacant berths quite inconsistent with the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade on 21st June, when, claiming that the Government's policy of encouraging American tourists had been completely successful, he said that all accommodation on eastbound ships had been fully booked for many weeks past?

Yes, but I am sure that the hon. Member would not suggest that this ship should not be used for the emigrant traffic to Canada, and I am also sure that he would not suggest that we should use force to compel tourists to travel in the ship if they do not wish to do so.

Cotton Cover Scheme

12.

asked the President of the Board of Trade when the new cotton cover scheme, drafted by the Raw Cotton Commission, can be expected to come into operation.

I understand that the Raw Cotton Commission is considering the question in the light of the circumstances to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred in his statement yesterday.

Could the right hon. Gentleman ask the Raw Cotton Commission to hurry up and provide an adequate cotton cover scheme, at the same time bearing in mind that the Liverpool Cotton Exchange provided very adequate facilities before the war?

I am well aware of the facts to which the hon. Member refers, but of course, whether this commodity was under private or public purchase, consideration would have to be given to the shortage of dollars for the purchase of cotton.

Wood Pulp Imports

13.

asked the President of the Board of Trade why wood pulp is still being imported from abroad at a time when there is a glut of waste paper in the hands of local authorities and the compulsory collection of paper salvage has had to be discontinued.

Pulp is being imported where our financial position permits in order to provide suitable qualities of paper and board.

In view of what the Chancellor said yesterday, is it not essential that we should avoid importing any material which can be procured from waste stocks in this country?

Yes, but the hon. and gallant Member will realise that practically the whole of this pulp comes from soft currency sources, and it is a fact that, although supplies of waste paper of certain mixed grades are now adequate, the supply of special grades is very far from being adequate.

The Argentine (Scheduled Goods)

14.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he intends to take to implement his undertaking to the Argentine Government to facilitate the supply of scheduled goods.

The attention of production departments and trade associations is being specially drawn to the schedules and I am confident that exporters will be eager to supply the Argentine market. Action will also be taken whenever it is necessary in accordance with Articles 14 and 15 of the agreement.

Can the President of the Board of Trade say whether similar guarantees could have been effected with the Soviet Union when we reached certain difficulties last year?