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Trade And Commerce

Volume 481: debated on Thursday 30 November 1950

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European Co-Operation

16.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement indicating the degree to which there has been reciprocity by the countries of Europe in response to our liberalisation of trade; and whether he is satisfied with the response.

The Organisation for European Economic Co-operation recently decided that member countries should liberalise at least 60 per cent. of their imports on private account from one another of food, raw materials and manufactured goods counted separately. Returns made to the Organisation to show the action taken in fulfilment of this decision indicate that nearly all the principal trading countries concerned have fully conformed to it. Further liberalisation is expected by 1st February, 1951, and, meanwhile, I see no reason to be dissatisfied.

Do not a number of the administrative difficulties which are put up by various countries have the effect of cutting down the benefit to us? Is it not a fact that owing to the influence of the utility scheme many countries are reluctant to do what they ought to do under this arrangement?

That and the other difficulties referred to by the hon. Member are being discussed with the countries concerned.

Is it not the case that under the scheme at present, industrial felts manufactured in this country cannot gain admission into Germany, whereas German industrial felts can be sold here at a lower price than in Germany? Is that not a form of organised dumping which these rules were framed to prevent?

If the hon. Member will put down a Question on these matters, I shall be glad to answer it.

Umbrellas

17.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the very heavy incidence of Purchase Tax on umbrellas, namely, 70 per cent., he will give consideration to making arrangements to permit the production of a utility umbrella at a reasonable price.

I could not introduce a utility umbrella merely in order to cut down the incidence of Purchase Tax. Any question of altering the rate of tax is, of course, one for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is almost impossible to buy an umbrella for less than about 35s., because of the very high incidence of Purchase Tax? Shop assistants, typists, cleaners, and other wage earners who may not have umbrellas and are unable to buy them at a reasonable price have their clothing spoiled in bad weather, which will be an encumbrance upon the Board of Trade, and, if they are laid up with colds, a disturbance for business.

My hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate my right hon. Friend's Budget statement.

Canadian Footwear (Tax)

18.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how he intends to remove the discrimination against imported Canadian Purchase Tax paying rubber footwear caused by the bringing of identical and similar British-made footwear into the tax free utility scheme.

I cannot as yet add to the answer which I gave to the hon. Member on 9th November.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this form of discrimination is affecting our trade with Canada somewhat adversely, and could not he speed up his decision?

No, Sir. There is no evidence that this is very gravely affecting our imports of footwear from Canada. In any case, the main item of interest to the Canadian exporters is that of Wellington boots which are not covered by the utility scheme.

Phosphoric Acid

19.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is satisfied that there are adequate supplies of phosphoric acid available in view of its importance in the rearmament programme.

I have no reason to suppose that the rearmament programme will suffer in any way through shortages of phosphoric acid.

Does not the Minister agree that the principal supplier of this acid says that there is a shortage and that he cannot supply? That being so, will the right hon. Gentleman reduce import duties, as has been done with other commodities, to make certain that adequate supplies are available?

I am ready to look into the question of supplies to any particular consumer; but I was asked about the rearmament programme, and I am assured that there should be no real difficulties in that connection.

Census Of Distribution

20.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will inform the House of the progress being made in the census of distribution; and when he expects the census to be completed.

Preparations for the census of distribution to be taken in 1951 are well advanced, and forms for completion will be issued to traders at the beginning of next year. If the forms are returned promptly I hope that some tabulated results will be available by the end of 1952.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will resist any pressure that this census should be abandoned?

Yes, Sir. I have already made clear the attitude of the Government on that question.

Waste Paper Collection

21.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has now received the plan from the Waste Paper Recovery Association which is intended to encourage local authorities to resume or increase waste paper collection; and if he will make a statement thereupon.

Yes, Sir. I have now received a scheme for a new national waste paper salvage campaign to be run in 1951 by the Waste Paper Recovery Association, who are offering prizes totalling £20,000 for the councils which collect the highest tonnage per head of their population per month. I am arranging for the details of the scheme to be published in the Board of Trade Journal. As I have already announced, the mills have agreed to guarantee a minimum price of £6 10s. a ton for mixed baled waste paper collected by local councils, with higher prices for better, sorted, grades. The mills undertake to accept all the paper offered to them by councils at those prices until the end of 1951, and, furthermore, if the market prices are higher, to pay the market price.

I should like to emphasise the importance which I attach to an early resumption of collections by as many councils as possible, particularly those in urban and semi-urban areas. In taking this course they will be doing a national service, and will indirectly be aiding most branches of trade and industry in their own areas, which are dependent on paper or board supplies for one purpose or another.

Now that the Minister has completed this welcome scheme for the salvage of waste paper, and although I appreciate that he has circulated Departments on the subject of avoiding all waste of paper, may I ask cannot he devise a constructive plan whereby the nationalised industries, Government Departments and local authorities could be encouraged, perhaps by the awarding of a prize, to save all the paper they can by using much less in their work?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of what I said on the subject last Friday, when I stressed the need for maximum economy in private industry as well.

Newsprint Supplies

23.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how much of the 100,000 tons of British-made newsprint allocated to the Commonwealth in 1951 has been earmarked for Malaya.

One thousand, eight hundred tons of British newsprint have been allocated for export to Malaya and Singapore in 1951.

In view of the contribution that newspapers in Malaya are making to the solution of the emergency there, and also of the difficulty they are experiencing in getting newsprint at any price, will the Minister consider at least doubling the supply? Further, will he receive a deputation on the subject?

The hon. Gentleman will realise the difficulty which I have in this connection, the more so when I am under strong pressure to reduce exports of newsprint from this country.

Remembering that Malaya is the only part of the British Empire now at war, and realising the urgent need for active propaganda by Press and other means, will not the Minister look once more at the question of this hopelessly inadequate allocation?

I am well aware of the need for newsprint in Malaya. We are doing what we can to help them. It might help if the hon. Gentleman would advise his right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) to stop asking for a reduction of exports from this country.

24.

asked the President of the Board of Trade on what grounds he has allotted to the Colonies less than 6 per cent. of the total 1951 allocation to the Commonwealth of newsprint manufactured in the United Kingdom.

The pattern of our newsprint exports follows, with some modifications, the long-term contracts made by United Kingdom mills, which, in turn, reflect our traditional pattern of trade.

Does not the Minister realise that the action taken to cut down imports from dollar countries entirely alters the situation? Does he really think that such a very small proportion is an equitable one, having in mind the comparison of population between the Colonies and the Dominions?

We shall certainly do anything we can to help the Colonies. I think that many of their difficulties arise from the fact that they are unable to buy newsprint for which dollars have been allocated in the dollar area.

When considering the allocation of newsprint to the Colonies, will my right hon. Friend also take into account the fact that the newspapers in Malaya are considerably bigger than the newspapers in this country?

25.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will convene a conference of representatives from the Dominions and the United States of America to investigate and consider the best means of ensuring an equitable distribution of newsprint so as to ensure a minimum of an eight page daily newspaper in this country.

I have had this idea in mind for some time, but should prefer to consider it when the supply position for next year is somewhat clearer.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the mistake he has always made in the past has been in not looking far enough ahead? Is not he aware that his action in causing the cancellation of the Canadian contract drove the newsprint into the American market; and, having got the newspapers into this mess, has he not some responsibility to get them out of it?

Three, if not four, times this year we have extended our arrange- ment with Canada still further ahead at the request of the Newsprint Supply Company. On each occasion they said that if we would do that it would solve the problem.

Forest Of Dean

26.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether in view of that part of the Coal Board's National Development Plan relating to the Forest of Dean coalfield, envisaging the virtual exhaustion of the coal within the next 15 years and a gradual decline up to then, he will consider further measures to attract other industries to this area, so as to avoid serious unemployment or the uprooting of a part of the industrial population.

It would be premature for me to make any statement on this subject until the proposals contained in the National Coal Board's "Plan for Coal" have been considered by the industry's National Consultative Council and the Consumers' Councils and presented to my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Fuel and Power, for his approval. But as I informed my hon. Friend in reply to his Question on 22nd June, he can rest assured that we are keeping the industrial trends in this area, and other areas likely to be affected, under constant review.

Utility Clothing (Profit Margins

27.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether after inquiry by his officers at the premises of a firm in Leeds, referred to him by the hon. Member for Leeds, West, he is satisfied that the margins allowed to the trade for outwear utility garments are such that the consumers' interest is being protected whilst maintaining trade union wages and conditions and fair trading profits in the industry.

Can my right hon. Friend say how often his Department revises the utility price margins?

We are conducting continuous examination into the actual costs of production and margins of profit on practically every item covered by price control under the utility scheme.

Raw Cotton Imports

28.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action is being taken to improve the supply of raw cotton to the United Kingdom.

29.

asked the President of the Board of Trade why the United Kingdom has received a smaller allocation of the current United States crop of raw cotton than Japan or Germany and a relatively smaller allocation than Italy.

30.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of inadequate allocations from the United States of America, he is satisfied that the existing stocks of raw cotton are sufficient both in quantity and quality to maintain cotton textile production at the highest level compatible with existing machinery and labour.

I am not satisfied that an adequate share of the United States' cotton crop has so far been made available to us. Representations are now being made to the United States Government in Washington, and I am sure that the House will not expect me to make any further comment now.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say in what growths the most serious deficiencies exist, and can he say whether the cotton trade is getting clear information of the details so that they can plan accordingly? Is he aware that full employment in the cotton trade depends entirely on an adequate supply of raw materials?

I am certainly well aware of the last point. The Raw Cotton Commission have given guidance to the Lancashire mills, but since it was only at the end of last week that we had the detailed allocation of the second batch of exports from the United States, it is too early yet to be able to assess its effect.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that buying by competent private enterprise would get us a larger allocation for the Lancashire industry than we get under this Government to Government allocation?

Since this particular cotton is sold by private enterprise, and since the whole difficulty relates to the question of the export licences issued by the United States Government, the method of purchasing in this country has absolutely nothing to do with the matter.

Defence Orders (Raw Materials)

31.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to ensure that factories engaged on vital work in connection with the defence programme are not hampered owing to the lack of adequate raw materials.

While no case has been brought to my notice where defence orders have been hampered by a shortage of raw materials for which the Board of Trade is responsible, I am aware that difficulties are already arising in the supply of certain raw materials. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated during the debate on the Address on 2nd November, we have taken up these difficulties as a matter of urgency with the countries concerned. If shortages develop, special allocation arrangements will be introduced as necessary in order to see that priority users have the first call on available supplies. I hope that a fuller statement will be made shortly.

In view of the very great importance of this question, which might hold up the whole rearmament programme, has the Minister consulted the various trade associations, who are only too willing to assist in seeing that raw material flows into the country through the channels that are desirable?

Yes, Sir; I agree that there is no item of greater importance at present in our production situation, and my Department and other Departments are maintaining close contacts with the trade associations, both in regard to supplies and meeting the needs of essential users.

Is the Minister aware of the rapidly increasing anxiety on this subject in the engineering industries of Birmingham and the Midlands? The brass foundries, for example, fear that they may only be able to reach 50 per cent. of their capacity owing to shortage of metal?

Yes, Sir. I am aware of that, and it was that to which I was referring in my answer.

While the shortage of materials exists in the textile industry, will the Minister pay particular attention to the export of cotton waste from this country?

Yes, Sir. I am at the moment going into the question of cotton waste, cotton yarn and rayon materials.

Hotel Accommodation, London

32.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps have been taken during the past 12 months to deal with the increasing difficulty of obtaining hotel accommodation in the London area; and what action he proposes to take during the next few months to increase the accommodation available in order to deal with the large influx of visitors who are being encouraged to come to London in 1951 for the Festival of Britain.

As the answer is necessarily long, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

If charges for accommodation become exorbitant during the Festival of Britain can action be taken? If so, will it be taken?

No consideration has been given to that particular question, because the urgent one is to ensure that sufficient accommodation is made available to meet the needs of those who want to come, I have asked the British Hotels and Restaurants Association to reserve a large proportion of their rooms for overseas visitors, particularly for those who spend dollars.

Can the Minister say whether the action he is taking includes restraining his right hon. Friends from requisitioning hotels?

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look into this, he will find that we have de-requisitioned by far the greatest proportion of those that were requisitioned. Further, we have just come to an arrangement to de-requisition a further four, which the hotels industry is not willing to take over.

Can my right hon. Friend ensure that Members of Parliament necessarily occupying hotels while they are on the business of the House, will not be thrown out?

In stating that the hotel industry is not willing to take on these premises, has the right hon. Gentleman considered that, under the terms of the Catering Wages Act, it is not possible for the industry to render the service it would like to render?

Following is the answer:

My colleagues and I have for some time past been giving close attention to the problems created by the shortage of hotel accommodation in London, and to the serious consquences which this situation was likely to have, not only upon the success of the Festival of Britain, but also upon the development of our tourist trade. While we have been principally concerned to ensure satisfactory arrangements for the reception of visitors from overseas, we have also taken account of the large numbers of our own people who will be attracted by the Festival. It has been impracticable to arrive at any accurate estimate of the size of the problem, but work has gone ahead on the basis that as much additional accommodation as possible should be provided.

The first new hotel to be built in London since the war should be open in good time for the Festival. The bulk of hotel building licensed in London consists, however, of projects of extension, modernisation and reconstruction. Since the beginning of the year, building licences have been granted which will result in an additional 1,300 bedrooms becoming available in time for the opening of the Festival and a further 170 a month or two later.

The British Hotels and Restaurants Association have at my request urged their London members to reserve a high proportion of their rooms for overseas visitors, with priority for tourists from dollar countries. I hope very much that all London hotels will follow this lead, and I would urge all hotel keepers willingly to accept advance bookings from overseas visitors, whether made directly or through travel agents.

During this year's tourist season, a highly successful experiment was conducted in the inauguration of the London Hotels Information Service, operated by the British Hotels and Restaurants Association, in conjunction with the British Travel and Holidays Association.

The Service does not make bookings, but informs overseas visitors and travel agents acting for them of hotels with vacant rooms. Since it was started last June the Service has arranged some 35,000 nights' accommodation. The Service will continue in an extended form during 1951. Efforts are also being made to ease the pressure on hotel accommodation in central London by encouraging visitors to make greater use of hotels on the outskirts, and in towns within easy reach of London. Moreover, under the Hotel Grants Scheme, which I announced on 6th July, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), we are providing a financial incentive to hotels to cater for United States and Canadian visitors during 1951.

Even although a considerable amount of building work has been authorised and we have done our utmost to see that London hotel accommodation is used to the best advantage, it may not be possible to accommodate everyone in hotels. There is, however, a large and untapped reserve of sleeping accommodation for tourists in private houses. Early this year the British Travel and Holidays Association launched a scheme for inspecting and registering all offers of such accommodation. So far, 3,350 households, providing more than 7,000 beds, have been registered. A special inquiry office will direct overseas visitors who are unable to obtain hotel rooms w this accommodation.

Special attention has been given to providing moderately priced accommodation for organised parties of young people and schoolchildren, many of whom have been in the habit of staying at the Clapham deep shelter. This shelter, which has a capacity of 4,000, will he reopened for the Festival period under the management of the London County Council, to whom we are greatly indebted for their ready co-operation. The Clapham shelter necessarily provides only simple accommodation and is intended for those who stay not more than a night or two. For those who wish to stay longer, we are arranging a tented camp at Chigwell which will provide inexpensive accommodation for 2,000 visitors. We hope that there will also be a smaller camp with provision for about 1,000 visitors. These camps, which are intended primarily for overseas visitors, will be run by voluntary youth organisations, with equipment provided from Government stocks. Another site is provisionally earmarked for caravans and independent campers with space for about 500 people. Full details of these arrangements will be announced as soon as possible.

Restrictive Practices

33.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if his attention has been called to the report of the productivity team of industrial accountants and managers who recently visited the United States of America; and if he will set up an independent commission to investigate the extent of price agreements, quotas and restrictive practices in Britain, as recommended in the report.

I have seen this report, but see no advantage in duplicating the work of the existing Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission by setting up another Commission to cover the same ground.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is likely to be two years before the Commission issue their recommendations, and does he approve of the British people being cheated for the next two years into believing that there is such as thing as free, competitive private enterprise in Britain?

It will not be two years before we have the first report from the Monopolies Commission, because one is being published in a few days' time, and another should be available in January. I hope, shortly after that, to make a statement on the arrangements in hand to speed up the work of the Monopolies Commission.

Passenger Examination (London Airport)

35.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why M. Paul Loyonnet, who came to the United Kingdom on behalf of the French Government to play at a private concert at the French Institute in Edinburgh and London, was cross-examined as to whether he was going to earn money in England at such length, by the immigration officials at Heathrow on Tuesday, 7th November, 1950, that he missed his train to Scotland; and whether the officials concerned will be instructed, in similar cases, to telephone the French Embassy for confirmation instead of conducting a long drawn-out examination.

M. Loyonnet and the other passengers accompanying him could not be dealt with as quickly as is usual at the London Airport because their aircraft was 40 minutes late and arrived at a time when the staff were heavily engaged in dealing with other arrivals; and M. Loyonnet himself was further delayed because after his examination had begun he had to go to the Customs shed to get certain papers from his baggage and so lost his place in the queue. I am satisfied that the immigration officer did not question M. Loyonnet at undue length, and that no time would have been saved by consulting the French Embassy.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a large part of the delay was due to the cross-examination by the immigration official? Was not this a very churlish welcome to somebody who comes over here to give a concert at the request of the French Government?

No, Sir; I do not think that the facts as reported to me bear out what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, but I am always sorry when, owing to a chapter of accidents such as has occurred in this case, delay and inconvenience occur to visitors.