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Trade And Commerce

Volume 485: debated on Thursday 22 March 1951

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Statutory Instruments

29.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many Statutory Instruments have been made by him, or on his behalf, during the last six months which have the effect of either increasing or permitting an increase in the price of goods or services.

Since 1st October, 1950, the Board of Trade have made altogether 80 Statutory Instruments increasing the maximum prices which manufacturers are permitted to charge for goods or services.

In view of the very clear line of policy indicated by that very large number of permitted increases, is not the refusal of the right hon. Gentleman even to discuss further increases with the interests concerned, on the grounds of the risk of Parliamentary inconvenience in defending his decision, a completely unprecedented breach of Ministerial responsibility?

In view of the clear opposition which has been shown by hon. Members opposite to every price control order, or almost every price control order, that has been debated in the last two or three weeks, I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman is now working up so much synthetic indignation over the matter.

Can my right hon. Friend say in how many cases concerning these 80 orders the Opposition have moved Prayers for annulment, but have not had the courage to vote on them?

No, not without notice, but the interesting thing is that, over the first few months of that period, there were virtually no Prayers. There were only two in 1950, whereas there have been 10 or 12 in the last fortnight.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the only way in which comment can be made on one of these orders at all, whether of approval or disapproval, is by praying for its annulment? Can he point to a single instance, in the last few weeks, when these Prayers have been considered, which would justify his wholly irregular and quite possibly unconstitutional action?

What I cannot point to— and I have studied the debates—is a single point of substance raised on the orders, with the exception of the point raised by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), which turned out to be wrong.

Does the right hon. Gentleman, by his extraordinary statement, deny the right of the Opposition to raise these subjects in debate and put forward their point of view, at whatever the hour?

No, Sir; not in the slightest. In a public statement which I made last Friday, as well as in the statement which I made in the House in the early hours of Friday morning, I said very clearly that we fully recognised the right of Prayer against any of these Statutory Orders, whether they are objectionable by reason of drafting, substance or in any other way.

How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that statement with his unconstitutional action in linking up his Departmental duty, or lack of duty, with the question of the rights of free speech in the House, to which the Opposition attach such great importance?

There has never been any question of linking up my Departmental duties with the right of free speech, or the lack of free speech, in the House.

Is not the whole of this country indulging in one great belly laugh at the results of the collective "old soldiering" of the Conservative Party?

On the right hon. Gentleman's statement that no points of substance were raised at all on the Prayers last week, is he aware that two Prayers took a long time to discuss, and that, concerning one of them, the Government have already given way and announced their intention to introduce an amending Order?

I am not clear whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to price control orders, but my reference, of course, was to price control orders, which form the basis of the Question before the House.

Furniture Prices Order

30.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether related schedule U.F.6 was laid before Parliament with the Furniture (Maximum Prices) Amendment No. 3 Order, 1951; and when copies of this related schedule were made available in the Vote Office.

The answer to the first part of the Question is "Yes, Sir." As regards the second part, I understand that His Majesty's Stationery Office delivered copies of the Order and the related schedule to the Vote Office on the morning of publication, 16th February, 1951.

Can the right hon. Gentleman then explain why his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in the debate on 8th March, was only able to produce U.F.5, the schedule which was being abolished, and was completely unable to produce schedule U.F.6? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole Order is quite meaningless unless we have schedule U.F.6?

I have already made clear that schedule U.F.6 was available in the Vote Office at the same time as the Order.

As I moved the Prayer in connection with this Order, and as I asked in the afternoon at the Vote Office and the Library for copies of the schedule and could not get them. May I ask is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I was only able to get the Library copy from the Board of Trade by telephoning his private secretary? Why was no copy available on the day of the debate?

I am not, of course, responsible for the administration of the Vote Office, or for whether enough copies were made available, but, as regards the Library, I believe there was some misunderstanding, and I understand that hon. Members who expressed interest were assured afterwards that copies were available.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, in future, in the event of any debates being permitted on Prayers, the schedules will be available in sufficient quantities to ensure that, at least, the Leader of the House has one?

It is certainly my desire that they should be available in sufficient quantities for all hon. Members, but it is not my responsibility to instruct the Vote Office on how many copies they should take. The Vote Office can have as many copies as they ask for, and I am sure that those responsible for this question will notice the very fair point made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is desirable that, when these questions are raised in the House, all the essential documents should be available, because I quite agree that, without the schedule, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to understand the main Order.

Tinplate Exports

32.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what allocations of tinplate have been made to Empire countries for the specific purpose of packing food for import into the United Kingdom.

None, Sir. Tinplate is exported to Commonwealth countries without restrictions as to its use.

Film Quotas

34.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about exhibitors' film quotas for the year beginning 1st October, 1951.

After consulting the Cinematograph Films Council, I do not propose to make any order this year to amend the Cinematograph Films (Quota) Order. This means that the prescribed quotas will remain at 30 per cent. for first feature films and 25 for supporting programmes for the 12 months period beginning October 1st, 1951.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that perhaps there could be an increase in this quota, in view of the great unemployment among actors, actresses and technicians in the film industry, and can he say whether he consulted with all sides of the industry before arriving at his decision?

I should very much like to have made an increase in this quota, and I am sure that the whole House would, but the size of the quota must depend on the number of films which are likely to be made, and I cannot accept the suggestion implicit in the remarks of my hon. Friend that an increased quota would increase production and employment. In answer to the latter part of his question, nearly all sections of the industry are represented on the Cinematograph Films Council.

American Sulphur

35.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether any agreement has yet been reached about the allocation of sulphur from the United States of America; and whether he will make a statement about the distribution of sulphur to essential industries.

39.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps are being taken to increase the supplies of sulphuric acid to the rayon industry.

Agreement has not yet been reached with the Government of the United States of America on the allocation of sulphur, and I still await decision on the representations which have been made. Pending this, every effort will be directed to maintain supplies to essential industries, including supplies of sulphuric acid for the rayon industry, at as high a level as practicable.

In view of the very severe threat to our industry, will my right hon. Friend say whether he intends to make a personal visit to the United States to raise this matter at the highest level; and, has he any comment to make on recent newspaper allegations that this shortage arises because we were not making dollars available?

I think it is too early to say whether any visits will be paid to the United States on this question. On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I did see the suggestion in the Press last Saturday that the shortage was due to a failure to allocate dollars. In fact, dollars have been allocated throughout for the whole amount of the supplies available to us, and there is no foundation whatever for the "Daily Telegraph" statement.

Has my right hon. Friend explored every avenue in order to secure new markets or new sources of supply, and have there been any attempts to secure sulphuric acid from Spain and Cyprus? Is he further aware that the rayon industry in Lancashire is depreciating very severely, and that we shall be faced with unemployment if something is not done?

On the first point, we have been throwing the net very wide, not only for supplies of sulphur, but, more particularly, for pyrites, and we get large quantities from Spain. We are also going into the question of the development of supplies from Cyprus, and the development at home of acid supplies from anhydrites. On the second part, I fully agree with what my hon. Friend has said. In fact, the rayon industry has not been cut by anything like as much as it will be cut if the allocation scheme which I have already mentioned to the House has to be introduced.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that not only are these materials important in the rayon industry, but that sulphuric acid is very important from the point of view of the metal industry?

As the position will be very uncertain while these negotiations are going on, will the right hon. Gentleman say what is the Government's policy in regard to the export of superphosphates? Is such export allowed or not?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer on that specific point, but, of course, sulphur exports generally are very small.

Industrial Development, Scotland

36.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many new companies and with what aggregate capital were registered in Scotland in 1949 and in 1950; how many of them originated in Glasgow and Edinburgh; how many in other parts of Scotland; and how many in the seven crofter counties.

In 1949, 683 new companies were registered in Scotland with an aggregate nominal share capital of £8.2 million, and 10 were registered without a share capital. The corresponding figures for 1950 were 623 companies with an aggregate share capital of £6.6 million, and four without a share capital. As regards the second part of the Question complete information is not available, but I am obtaining some particulars, which I will send to the noble Lord.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he gets these figures they are likely to show that by far the greater bulk of development is in the industrial belt in Scotland? Is it not desirable, in present circumstances, to get more development in the remoter regions, and will he remember that it is not a question of compulsion, but that, by encouragement, he can do a great deal to further development in the North?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have very much at heart the desirability of establishing industries in the particular parts of Scotland which the noble Lord has in mind, but, as he has shown in his Question, he realises the difficulty.

Elections (Paper Supplies)

37 and 38.

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) what stock of paper is held available for candidates' literature in the event of a general election; and if he will give an assurance that such a stock is available at the present time;

(2) if he will take steps to ensure that there is sufficient paper available for candidates' literature in the forthcoming municipal elections.

40.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to ensure that adequate supplies of paper are available to all candidates in the municipal elections next May.

As explained in the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) on 20th March, arrangements have been made with the paper and printing trades for preferential treatment to be given, under the voluntary priority scheme for paper and boards, to the requirements of all political parties for both national and local elections. The trade organisations concerned have recently been reminded of the importance of this matter, and assurances of their co-operation have since been received. In these circumstances, I consider it unnecessary to earmark special stocks of paper for this purpose, but it is most important that the trade should see that these needs are met. Hon. Members may rest assured that we shall continue to watch the position very closely.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that he will keep the matter under continuous review, in view of the fact that the paper might be required at any time now? Can he further say whether representations have been made to the trade organisations in regard to paper for the municipal elections, and whether he received any information from Wembley about the difficulties they experienced in getting paper for the municipal election?

I am not aware of any representations from Wembley, but I will inquire whether there were any. As regards both municipal and national elections, that is a matter which is being kept very closely under review so far as paper supplies are concerned.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether sufficient paper will be made available to wrap up all the red herrings which the Opposition are preparing for the next election?

Nylon Production

43.

asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent he estimates that difficulties in the supply of sulphur will lead to a decline in output of nylon yarn in the United Kingdom; and whether he anticipates any diminution of supply of nylon stockings for the home market during the year 1951.

Nylon production depends directly on the supply of nylon polymer. Sulphur and sulphuric acid are used for making some of the chemicals which go into the manufacture of nylon polymer, but the quantities are not large, and I understand that it is unlikely that production will have to be reduced owing to shortage of sulphur. As regards nylon stockings, I said in answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), on 1st March that I could see no prospect of increasing supplies further for some time to come, but I hope that it will not be necessary to reduce supplies to the home market.

As the shortage of sulphur may lead to a serious diminution in the output of rayon stockings, will the right hon. Gentleman consider making good the deficiency by diverting additional supplies of nylon stockings to the home market?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, all hon. Members opposite, had accepted the vital necessity in the present economic situation, of increasing our exports. In the circumstances, therefore, however desirable it might be to have more supplies for the home market, I am sure he would not press for any diminution of an important export programme.

Tariff Conference, Torquay

44.

asked the President of the Board of Trade when the Torquay Conference will end; and when the results of the conference will be published.

As was stated in a Press notice issued by the Secretariat of the conference at Torquay on 15th March, arrangements have been made for the completion of the bilateral and of the multilateral stages of the negotiations so as to bring the conference to a close on 21st April. The results of the conference are to remain secret until 9th May, and on 12th May the full text of the Torquay concessions will be made public by the Secretariat at Geneva. I shall, of course, arrange for the results of the conference to be made available to the House at the earliest possible moment.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an undertaking not to sell out the Empire any further, as appears to have been done over sugar?

The hon. Gentleman is quite inaccurate in that allegation. There have been statements in this House about it, and I cannot accept the suggestion he makes. I gave an assurance about the attitude of this country towards the Imperial Preference question before the conference began, and I think that when the conference ends the House will not be dissatisfied with the way in which I have kept that assurance.

British Broadcasting Corporation (Report)

45.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will now make a statement on the policy of the Government with regard to the recommendations made in the Beveridge Report on the British Broadcasting Corporation.

I am not yet in a position to add anything to the replies which were given on this subject by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he was Lord President of the Council, but I am giving the matter urgent attention.

While welcoming the right hon. Gentleman back to the House in his new capacity, even though he will not be allowed to hold it very long— [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]— because of the approaching end of this Parliament—will he say whether he would be prepared to receive representations from many of us who do not approve of several or, indeed, many of the recommendations of the Beveridge Report?

I intend to give the House a very full opportunity to debate this subject, but I have not yet come to a final conclusion, because I do not know whether to do it by the method of a White Paper. I want to put forward the Government's views and enable the House to have a free debate, so that the Government can then come to a final conclusion on the attitude to be adopted with regard to the B.B.C. In that way, we can hear everybody's opinion.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that it is the Government's policy not to sacrifice sound broadcasting to the development of television?

I am not an expert on either, but one thing I have learned among a lot of others in my lifetime is that the fellow who is not an expert usually makes the best settlement.

As the right hon. Gentleman started his career in Devonshire, will he see that the people of Devon get adequate sound broadcasts?