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Trade And Commerce

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1950

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Key Workers' Houses, Coatbridge

63.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that houses let by the Scottish Special Housing Association to key workers in Coatbridge are charged at rentals of 63s. per week, and are tied houses; and, as these workers left houses in England at 25s. per week, if he will take steps to reduce the rentals they are now paying.

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the larger types of house for which the rent and rates together are about 63s. per week. These larger houses are provided for key executives and could not be made available at an inclusive rent of 25s. per week. The total outgoings of 63s. per week are comparable with those for similar houses which we have provided for managerial key workers in England and in order to keep Scottish rents down to these levels we have already agreed to make loans to the Scottish Association on a favourable basis. Under present conditions, the restricted number of houses provided under this special scheme must be reserved for tenants who are, and remain, genuine key workers.

Is my hon. Friend aware that my information is that these are ordinary council houses built by the Scottish Special Housing Association and that they are let to tenants beside them at 25s. a week? Will he look into this further to see whether his information is really correct?

Nylon Stockings (Laddering)

64.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware of the increasing propensity for laddering in nylon stockings; and what steps he is taking to protect purchasers from high prices for low quality and unsatisfactory nylons.

I do not agree that our nylon stockings show any increasing propensity for laddering or that they are of low quality or unsatisfactory.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that on this occasion this side of the House agrees with the other side in respect of these nylon stockings? Will he reconsider the matter?

Is my hon. Friend aware that nylon repair shops are opening up all over Great Britain and that they contradict the statement he has just made? Will he do something to improve the quality, and will he note particularly that the nylons being produced by reputable first-class firms are highly unsatisfactory?

I wish to refute that statement. British nylon stockings are as good as any in the world.

Utility Clothing (Wholesalers)

65.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the regulations of his Department encourage manufacturers to sell many articles direct to big stores, where they are able to obtain higher prices, rather than to the small wholesale drapers and that this is a serious hardship to the small wholesaler; and whether he will extend the principle of the Handkerchiefs Order to other articles to prevent the continuance of this discrimination.

68.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the inconvenience caused to customers in rural areas by the effect of his Department's price regulations in preventing small retailers from obtaining a fair share of utility clothing in short supply; and what action he is taking.

We are considering whether to introduce into the manufacturers' Orders for other utility goods the provision in the Utility Handkerchiefs (Marking and Manufacturers' Prices) Order whereby a manufacturer, when selling direct to retailers, is not permitted to charge more than the maximum price on sale to wholesalers unless he conducts a regular selling organisation for supplying the retail trade.

Can the hon. Gentleman give any indication when this consideration is likely to be what the Chancellor of the Exchequer calls finalised?

Rayon Piece Goods (Australia)

66.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he has yet received a report from the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Canberra on his formal approach to the Australian Government expressing His Majesty's Government's concern at the increase in the British preferential tariff on rayon piece goods; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. A reply has not yet been received from the Australian Government. Our High Commissioner in Canberra has been instructed to pursue the matter further. My right hon. Friend and I have also taken the opportunity of seeing the Australian Resident Minister in London and expressed to him the great concern of the United Kingdom Government regarding this matter.

Can the Minister say when he expects to have a reply from the High Commissioner? Is he aware that this matter is causing consternation in Lancashire, and it is difficult for the businesses concerned, anxious to do trade with Australia, to get on until they know the position on this tariff, which has gone up from l½d. to 1s. 6d. per yard?

Handcrafts (Exports)

69.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps are being taken to encourage the sales of hand-knitted and hand-woven goods in the dollar markets.

British Handcrafts Export, which is a non-profit making organisation and has received financial assistance from the Government, was set up to promote exports of handcrafts to hard currency markets. All the existing facilities for exporters and would-be exporters to dollar markets are, of course, available for hand-made as for machine-made goods.

Can the Minister tell us, what has actually resulted from those steps that were taken?

The first full year of trade was 1949–50. Their sales for that year amounted to about £2,000. A great amount of that came from the hard currency areas.

Furniture Development Council

71.

asked the President of the Board of Trade, in view of the fact that £18,500 has been levied by the Furniture. Development Council during 1949, £2,580 expended on council members' remuneration, and only £503 on research, whether he is satisfied that figures of this proportion are in accordance with the policy for development councils laid down by him.

The spending of the levy fund, apart from the remuneration of the members, is entirely a matter for the Council. I do not in any case consider it practical to draw conclusions from the accounts of the first year's activities, when the council was necessarily mainly engaged in organising and planning for the. future.

As the only thing the council seems to have done has been to. vote themselves large salaries, would it not be much better if they did some useful work?

They have done quite a lot of useful work, not only on quality and reports on expenditure, but on the structure of the industry, education and improvement of the factories.

Imported Pit Props

72.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what quantity of pit props were imported during 1947, 1948 and 1949; and what quantity it is expected will be imported during the current year.

The figures for 1947, 1948 and 1949 were about 644,000, 544,000 and 559,000 piled cubic fathoms respectively. It is not the practice to forecast future imports; those for the first five months of 1950 were 107.000 piled cubic fathoms.

Pottery Industry (Development Council)

73.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the present position of the proposal to set up a development council for the pottery industry.

This matter is still under consideration, and I cannot make any statement in the meantime.

But this matter has been under consideration for some years; may we expect a decision very soon, or have the Government departed from their previous idea that this would be a very good thing for the pottery industry?

Decorated Pottery (Distribution)

74.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been drawn to the recent prosecutions connected with the illegal sale of decorated earthenware; whether he is satisfied with the present machinery for dealing with its disposal and distribution; and what further action he contemplates taking to put the matter on a more satisfactory basis.

Yes, Sir. We propose in the near future to make a new pottery Order which will contain further safeguards against black market activities.

Will the House have the advantage of hearing what are the proposals in the Order?

Newsprint Supplies

75.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the present position of the supply of newsprint; and what steps he is taking to maintain the present allocation to provincial daily and weekly newspapers.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given yesterday to the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn).

Will the Minister bear in mind that provincial newspapers have to report local as well as national news? When he has additional supplies available, will he try to see that they get a fair share of what is going?

Cigarette Supplies, Birmingham

76.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the shortage of popular brands of cigarettes is markedly greater in Birmingham than in most other parts of the country; and whether he will take steps to remedy this discrepancy.

I do not control the distribution of cigarettes and tobacco, but I have no reason to suppose that the position in Birmingham is worse than in a number of other large towns.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Birmingham one never sees the popular brands of cigarettes on show, whereas in London one frequently does?

I am quite prepared to bring this to the notice of the principal suppliers. That is all I can do.

Scottish National War Memorial

78.

asked the Minister of Works if he can arrange for access to the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle to be made available to the public on Sunday forenoons.

I have been asked to reply. With the agreement of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Scottish National War Memorial, arrangements have now been made for Edinburgh Castle and the War Memorial to be open to the public at 11 a.m. on Sundays instead of 1.30 p.m. as at present. The matter will be reviewed towards the end of the year in the light of the recorded attendances.

Heavy Industries, Coatbridge

80.

asked the Minister of Supply to what extent increasing unemployment in the heavy industries in Coat-bridge is due to competition with Belgian steel and lack of orders for lapwelded tubing; and what are the future prospects in regard to both.

There is no competition with Belgian steel which is likely to affect the iron and steel industry in this area, and I have no reason to suppose that future orders for lapwelded tubes will fall below their present level.

Is my hon. Friend aware there is a great deal of unemployment in the industry just now, as there has been for 12 months. due to the lack of orders for lapwelded tubes?

That does not agree with my information, and employment in the iron and steel firm concerned is remaining stable.

London Meat Distribution (Strike)

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any further statement to make about the strike of London meat drivers.

Yes, Sir. I regret that this strike continues. The Government are proceeding with their arrangements to safeguard, as fully as possible, the London meat supply. Service personnel yesterday began to handle carcass meat at certain of the cold storage depots, including Smithfield. Some fresh meat was also handled at Islington. As a consequence, certain other workers at those depots refused to continue at work, bringing the total number of workers affected by the stoppage to over 3,000.

In view of the conflicting statements that are appearing regarding the cause of the strike by the meat drivers, a short account of the events leading up to it may be useful. The claim was first presented by the union in January, 1949, and on two occasions, March, 1949, and September, 1949, because of the general economic position, the employers stated that they had no alternative but to reject the claim, although they were prepared to accept arbitration. The Negotiating Committee representing the men agreed, however. that the claim should not be pressed.

The claim was renewed on 6th June, which is the first effective date for the purpose of the present negotiations. A meeting of the Joint Industrial Council followed on 16th June. On 22nd June the employers accepted in principle the basis of the claim and made an offer which the Union desired to consider. A further meeting of the Joint Industrial Council was accordingly fixed for 29th June but unfortunately the strike started on 23rd June and the further meeting of the J.I.C. has thus been prevented.

On these facts there can be little doubt that the strike has occurred at a stage when it is most damaging to the men's interests. Whatever view they may have taken as to the value of the employers' offer, it opened the way for full discussions and negotiation. The Union executive have condemned the strike, which is a breach of agreement, and the men should resume normal working without delay. The London public are being seriously inconvenienced, and the Government are determined to protect essential food supplies.

We are grateful to the Minister for making that full statement. May I suggest that it might have been made a little earlier? I hope the Minister will give full publicity to it. I should like also to ask him a question which I put yesterday to the Parliamentary Secretary, who referred me to the Minister. In view of the fact that this unofficial strike is obviously designed to cause the greatest dislocation and difficulty to the housewife and the general public, is there any reason to believe that the same people are behind this strike as were behind the recent troubles at the London Docks?

It is difficult to give a very definite answer to that question. I heard the right hon. Gentleman ask that supplementary question yesterday and I pursued some inquiries into the matter. It is quite clear that this strike has been deliberately planned to take place at a given moment. but we have no information that its planning has, in fact, been carried out by anybody but the men themselves. It is interesting to note that the Port Workers' Defence Committee, the unofficial organisation who engineered the strikes in the docks, which is Communist-dominated, has in fact profited by the situation and has issued advice to the dock workers to refuse to work if the soldiers come on the scene. To that extent it is involved, but it is one thing to know something and another thing to prove it.

In view of the fact that the Minister has set up an inquiry into the situation in the docks dealing with these particular subjects, would he consider enlarging the scope of the inquiry so that it could take in this dispute?

No. Sir, for the reason that it is not necessary to enlarge the scope because they are asked to take this consideration with all other matters.

In fairness to the dock workers, would it not be right to point out that all these men are working at the moment? The Minister will understand that not one of them could be expected to work alongside troops—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Certainly: it is a fundamental principle. They do not wish to be involved in the dispute and do not intend to take any notice of any advice given by an outside body, but the advent of troops makes the position altogether different.

It is always difficult in these delicate affairs if we have too much question and answer, if I may be forgiven for saying so, because sometimes an accidental word gives us more trouble. Up to the moment attempts have been made to involve the dock workers, but so far they have resisted and I hope their loyalty and their experience recently will make them continue to resist.

That supplementary question gives me an opportunity to correct a little misunderstanding on the part of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who answered the Question yesterday at short notice. The Meat Transport Organisation act as the agent of the Ministry of Food and the employers are those whose vehicles are on charter to it. Altogether, 75 per cent. of the workers are employed by private firms and 25 per cent. by the Road Haulage Executive.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the work of the troops, for which the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens are most grateful, will enable the meat ration to be honoured in full this week in the London area?

Subject to such little difficulty as might arise in handling, it is the confident hope and expectation of the Government that it will be so. I can only say that every effort is being made to that end. I believe that our womenfolk and children had very considerable inconvenience last week by having to take the corned beef ration, and they may rest assured that everybody will do all that can he done to give them some real meat this week.

Accident, Consett Ironworks Company

( by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Supply whether he has any statement to make in regard to the accident which occurred last weekend at the Consett Iron Company's works and in which 11 men lost their lives.

I am sorry to say that an escape of carbon monoxide gas occurred at the No. 2 blast furnace of the Consett Ironworks Company, Durham, at about 10 p.m. on Saturday, 1st July, while the men were changing shifts. The cause of the escape is at present being investigated by one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Factories. Forty-five men were rendered unconscious. 11 of whom died. Twenty-eight had to be taken to hospital and 21 have since been discharged. The remainder are expected to leave hospital today. I deeply regret the loss of life involved and, on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, and indeed the whole House, I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my sympathy with the relatives of the men who were killed.