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Ministry Of Supply

Volume 497: debated on Monday 10 March 1952

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asked the Minister of Supply what progress has been made in the experiments with the twin-engined helicopter, the Bristol type 173; and what encouragement is being given by his Department to expedite the time when it will be a practical proposition in our transport system.

The first prototype flew for the first time on 3rd January last. The Ministry of Supply is giving all possible assistance to the company.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people who are close to these trials are of the opinion that the 13-seater will be a practical proposition in 1954?

Jet Aircraft


asked the Minister of Supply if he will give the types of jet engines now being developed under the auspices of his Department; and if he is satisfied with the progress being made.

No, Sir. It would not be in the national interest to publish particulars of the different types of aero engines which are now under development. I am satisfied that good progress is being made.

Is the Minister aware that there is a feeling that the lead we have established in that field is not so clear as it was? Would he say whether he thinks that at this time we can afford to lose the services and advice of Sir Frank Whittle?

I answered a Question about Sir Frank Whittle the other day, to which I refer the hon. Member. On the general issue, I think British achievement in the field of jet engines is sufficiently proved by the number of licences which have been taken out by Americans and others to produce these engines.


asked the Minister of Supply what heavy jet transport aircraft are now being developed to follow the Viscount and Comet II machines; and what projects are now in hand for a 30–40-seat helicopter.

Preliminary work is proceeding on several projects, but it is too early to make any detailed statement.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that unless we have a bigger and, if possible faster machine by 1956–57 we shall have lost our lead in this field? Will he give an assurance that, if possible, extra priority will be given not only to the jet transport aircraft now in production but also to the development of their successors?

I agree particularly with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. It seems to me that what we have to do is to make good the lead that we have already established, which means accelerating in every possible way the production of the Comet and other new aircraft which are either in production or just going into production.

Iron Foundries (Supplies)

2, 3 and 6.

asked the Minister of Supply (1) what arrangements he is making to assure continuity of supply of raw materials to the iron-founders for production of approved domestic solid-fuel burning appliances, both in respect of the new housing construction programme and in respect of replacements for old-type open domestic grates;

(2) whether, in view of the controversy between ironfounders and steelmakers upon allocation of available resources of scrap and pig-iron, he will state what steps he is taking to assure continuity of the flow of iron-castings to the engineering and allied industries;

(3) whether he is aware that 25 per cent., approximately, of the output of iron foundries is devoted to the provision of gutters, drain and soil pipes, baths and cookers for the housing programme; and what steps he is taking to assure adequate supplies of scrap and pig-iron for iron foundries to meet this requirement.

I am examining with the industry the whole question of the division of available raw materials between iron founding and steelmaking. Every effort is being made to meet the requirements for housing and other essential purposes.

In view of the fact that these three Questions are not entirely related to one another, may I ask my right hon. Friend two supplementary questions? First, in connection with Question No. 2, is he satisfied that all steps will be taken to ensure full conservation of our coal resources by making sufficient cast iron available for a million solid-fuel burning appliances during 1952? Second, in view of the importance of the high conversion value of iron castings for the engineering industries, will he pay special attention to the conversion value aspect of the problem?

Total Working DaysNumber of Working Days LostTotal Working DaysNumber of Working Days Lost


asked the Minister of Supply the number of Royal Ordnance factories in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively.

There are 17 in England, three in Scotland, three in Wales and none in Northern Ireland.

Does not the Minister think it is a pity that there is none in Northern Ireland? Will he bear in mind

As the first question is very detailed I should like to see it on the Order Paper. As regards the second, I certainly can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks.

Ordnance Factories


asked the Minister of Supply what has been the total number of working days lost each month from June, 1951, through sickness in all Royal Ordnance factories, as compared with the corresponding months of the previous year.

As the answer contains a table of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

As I am not yet able to see the figures, may I ask my right hon. Friend, in the meantime, whether he is satisfied with the situation that the figures portray, or whether he thinks some improvement is called for, and, if so, whether he will do anything about it?

When my hon. and gallant Friend sees the figures, he will see that they do show some improvement.

Following is the answer:

The following table shows the total number of working days lost through sickness each month from June, 1951, in all Royal Ordnance factories, with the corresponding figures for the previous year:

that there is a large pool of unemployed labour—and very good labour—there which might well be used for this purpose?

I share my hon. Friend's views. I have already had two meetings with the Minister of Commerce for Northern Ireland on this question, and we are to have further meetings in the very near future.

Hematite Pig-Iron


asked the Minister of Supply when he proposes to introduce a scheme for the allocation of hematite pig-iron.

I regret that I cannot yet say how soon it will be possible to introduce an allocation scheme for hematite pig-iron.

Is the Minister aware of the great urgency of this question? Does he appreciate the very great difficulties confronting export firms such as the one about which I wrote to him about 10 days ago?

Yes, Sir, I recognise those difficulties, and also the administrative difficulties that are involved in bringing in this scheme. We are working hard on it, but it will be at least two months before the scheme can be brought in.

Will the right hon. Gentleman resist the sometimes successful propaganda of steel-using industries that iron is not important in the cast iron trade, and ensure that the utmost investigation will be made before any iron is switched to steel?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the iron-using industries will not allow me to forget that.

Iron And Steel Prices (Mr Hardie's Letter)


asked the Minister of Supply if he will publish the letter of 24th January addressed to him by Mr. Steven Hardie in which he conveyed the unanimous decision of the Iron and Steel Corporation opposing any immediate increase in iron and steel prices.

10 and 19.

asked the Minister of Supply (1) whether he will publish the correspondence which has taken place since 1st January, 1952, between himself and the Iron and Steel Corporation in connection with the recent rise in iron and steel prices;

(2) what advice the Iron and Steel Corporation tendered to him in connection with the projected increase in iron and steel prices in the letter from the chairman dated 24th January, 1952.

It is not the practice to publish confidential correspondence between the Government and the Board of a nationalised industry.

However, I can tell the House that the purpose of Mr. Hardie's letter of 24th January was to place on record certain arguments advanced by him in the course of a meeting on 23rd January between himself, the Deputy-Chairman of the Corporation, myself, the Parliamentary Secretary and senior officials of the Ministry of Supply, at the conclusion of which a schedule of increased steel prices had been agreed.

I must, however, add that Mr. Hardie subsequently denied that he had agreed to any such price increases and rejected the minutes of the meeting. In view of this apparent misunderstanding, I referred the matter back to the Corporation.

At a subsequent meeting, Mr. Hardie informed me that the Corporation by a majority confirmed their agreement with the price increases approved at the meeting of 23rd January, at the same time expressing, as before, their regret that the Government was unwilling to re-introduce a subsidy for imported steel.

In view of the fact that Mr. Hardie has publicly stated that he conveyed in the letter of 24th January the unanimous decision of the Corporation rejecting the immediate increased prices, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that his statement to the House that there had been no difference on policy whatsoever was very misleading? The right hon. Gentleman's refusal to publish this letter will be very much resented.

Not at all. I have looked very carefully into what I said in the House the other day and I am perfectly satisfied that it was entirely correct.

Will the right hon. Gentleman then say why, despite his long and detailed statement on 25th February, he suppressed the evidence, even of the existence of the letter of 24th January, in which Mr. Hardie, on behalf of the whole Corporation, opposed the proposed increase in steel prices?

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by "suppressed" the letter. There is a thick bundle of correspondence between the Corporation and not only myself but also the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) about increases in prices. Had I mentioned them all, the debate would have been much longer than it was.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that he denies the statement of Mr. Hardie that in the letter which he sent to the Minister on 24th January he expressed the view of the full Corporation that there should be no increase in prices whatsoever? Does he say that that is untrue?

What I said was that the letter of 24th January placed on record a number of arguments made by Mr. Hardie in the course of a meeting on the 23rd, at which meeting it was agreed—or all present except Mr. Hardie thought it had been agreed—that a schedule of price increases was to be introduced. This was an argument in the course of a discussion.

But the right hon. Gentleman does not answer my question. Mr. Hardie made a very definite statement. I have not seen the letter, but the right hon. Gentleman has it. What I am asking is this: does he deny that in that letter of 24th January, on behalf of the Corporation, Mr. Hardie expressed general disagreement with any increase in prices?

It is very hard to answer that, since Mr. Hardie had himself agreed, only the night before, that there should be an increase in prices. I find it very difficult to answer this question. The whole correspondence is confused and, in places, contradictory.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the debate which took place, the House firmly gathered the impression that a freely-arrived-at decision of the Corporation was at variance with Mr. Hardie's view, whereas it is now alleged that the agreement of the Corporation with the Minister was reached after considerable pressure by the Minister on other members of the Corporation?

I completely and flatly deny that any pressure was brought on the members. If hon. Members opposite press me too hard, I might change my view and publish this correspondence. I think it is most undesirable to publish confidential correspondence between a Government Department and a nationalised board, and if it is published I warn hon. Members opposite that they might find it somewhat of a mixed blessing.

There is some confusion about this correspondence. Would it not be in the interests of the right hon. Gentleman, in order to clear up the confusion, that the correspondence should be published? Since it has been asked for, those who have asked for it must, of course, accept the responsibility, which we do.

I still think it is most undesirable to start a precedent of publishing confidential correspondence between a Government Department and the board of a nationalised industry. It would be bound to impair the frankness and freedom with which they exchange views and advice on these questions, and it is only for that reason that I resist this request.

What the right hon. Gentleman has just said is quite proper. We agree that confidential correspondence should ordinarily not be published, but if he gains the consent of Mr. Hardie to the publication of the correspondence, would he not then agree to disclose it?

I have consulted the Corporation about it and they are strongly opposed to the publication of this correspondence.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

Cotton Cloths (Contracts)


asked the Minister of Supple whether he is aware that cotton cloths are being offered for sale in this country by Continental mills supplying Her Majesty's Government; how many of these Government contracts have been placed by Her Majesty's present Government; and what steps will be taken to terminate them.

Yes, Sir. Seven contracts for the supply of cotton cloths were signed by His Majesty's Government between 26th October and 7th December last. Since then no further contracts of this kind have been concluded. It is not our intention to terminate these contracts, which contain no break clause.

Factories, Coventry (Steel Supplies)


asked the Minister of Supply if he is aware that the defence programme is being held up by shortage of steel in certain engineering shops in Coventry factories; and what steps he proposes to take to deal with the situation.

If the hon. Member will let me have particulars about the factories to which she refers, I will look into the matter.

I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that I have asked for this information. In the meantime, will he look into the position at Morris Engines and Armstrong Siddeley, where the men cannot understand, as they are on rearmament work, why they have been laid off? Further, is he aware that Coventry engineering firms are endeavouring to carry out a mutual aid scheme? Will he look into it and see if it is possible to help them along?

Jet Fighter (Swiss Press Article)


asked the Minister of Supply if he will inquire into and report to the House the circumstances in which information about the Super-marine Swift was made available for publication in Switzerland, in view of the fact that this jet fighter is still on the secret list in this country.

I would refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the reply given to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) on 27th February.

I would not expect the right hon. Gentleman to be responsible for newspaper articles based on surmise, but would he not consider it desirable to have a further review of the procedure which governs the partial publication by his Department and the Air Ministry of information relating to types of aircraft still on the secret list?

We are following the procedure which was agreed under the right hon. and learned Gentleman's administration. On the whole, I think it is satisfactory, but the problem is to decide how much and how little to give. If we give too little, then it is very difficult to restrain the Press. If, on the other hand, we give too much, then obviously that is a danger. I do not think there has been any leakage whatsoever in the present case.

Would the right hon. Gentleman look at the problem, having regard to the publication of this article? I must not make any criticism, but might it not be desirable to have a look at the procedure again?

I do not think that this article raises any issue. The photographs were published in agreement with the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply, and the particulars contained in the article are extremely inaccurate and obviously based upon surmise.

Us Ore (Uk Purchases)


asked the Minister of Supply whether he will give particulars of the 750,000 tons of iron ore to be made available by the United States steel industry to the United Kingdom, according to the agreement between the Governments of the two countries, set out in Command Paper No. 8464.

Whilst a considerable proportion of the purchases has now been made, negotiations by the United Kingdom steel industry are in progress for the rest, and they would be prejudiced if detailed particulars were given at the present time.

I am obliged to the Minister, but I do not think that I am clear, or that anyone else is clear, as to what is meant by the 750,000 tons of ore to be made available. Does that mean that ore which had already been bought by America is being relinquished by them to us, that they are reducing their intended purchases this year by 750,000 tons, or are they selling us the ore? What exactly does it mean?

It means that purchases which they had intended to make they are no longer going to make. They informed us what those purchases were to be, so that we might have the opportunity of making those purchases. It does not follow that we shall necessarily be able to obtain all of them in full, but we are doing our best.

Does that mean that the total purchases by America of ore from Sweden and elsewhere, including Africa, this year, will be 750,000 tons fewer than last year?

Re-Armament Contracts


asked the Minister of Supply what proportion of re-armament orders are at present being placed with the S.A.L. design and manufacturing unit at Prestwick Airport.

It would be contrary to established practice to give information about the value of contracts placed with particular firms.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even if 1 per cent. of the Government's orders which are allotted to England were diverted to Prestwick, it would put that factory on a satisfactory basis? Surely he is not going to follow the precedent of the previous Government in pursuing a vendetta against Scotland.

There is, of course, no question of any vendetta against Scotland. This firm is particularly suited to subcontract work. We have a recognised procedure for helping firms to obtain subcontracts, and we are doing what we can for that firm as well as for others in a similar position.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this was one of the smaller firms which suffered when the aircraft programme had to be cut down, and that there is a very valuable staff there, whose energy is not fully employed? Will he look into the possibility of making use of this factory in Prestwick, as there is a great deal of feeling that Scotland has never really had a proper share of our aircraft development work?

We are well aware of this firm's facilities, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has drawn the attention of successive Governments, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, in so far as we can, we will see that it gets its fair share.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall take an early opportunity of raising this matter.

Mr. Speaker, have I no rights? May I not resist the claim put forward by the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes)?


asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction in the northern region about the allocation of contracts to the engineering firms in connection with the re-armament programme; and if he will give an assurance that this region will, in future, receive its fair share.


asked the Minister of Supply what steps he is taking by way of placing Government contracts to avoid redundancy in factories in the Sunderland area administered by the North Eastern Trading Estates Limited.

Contracts are not allocated to any particular region and I am not aware that there is dissatisfaction in the North. Firms on the Ministry of Supply trades lists have an equal opportunity of tendering for contracts and any firm can apply to be included in the lists. Firms on these lists who occupy factories administered by the North Eastern Trading Estates Limited, receive the preferential treatment given to firms in all Development Areas.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that by answering two Questions together he has completely omitted to answer my Question? Will he be kind enough to send for the report of the Northern Engineering Bureau, which exists to help the Government in its re-armament programme and to help the North of England, and see the dissatisfaction expressed in that report? Also, may I have an assurance that he will take some action about it when he has read it?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the past few months some 700 workpeople have been laid off in Sunderland factories and that the late Government gave preference to the Development Areas in the allocation of contracts?

We are continuing to give exactly the same preference as the late Government to the Development Areas. I will certainly study the report to which the hon. Lady refers.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he says that preference is given to firms in Development Areas, there is one such area in Lancashire, which I have the honour to represent—Westhoughton—which has received no preference whatever in the past seven years? They have not even had a new factory in that time.

Cars (Export And Home Sales)


asked the Minister of Supply what export figure for motorcars was fixed for the 12 months ended September, 1951; and what steps he has taken to ensure that this figure has been adhered to.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen an advertisement, like the one I have here, which says:

"Your new car problem solved.
Hire—a 1951 Austin A.40 or A.70 to drive yourself for as little as £1 a day"?
As the motor trade organisations have stated that these cars being used by overseas visitors come off the export quota, will he inform the House how many such cars are issued each year for that purpose, and, secondly, what restrictions are placed on their re-sale in this country?


asked the Minister of Supply if, in view of the further evidence submitted to him by the hon. Member for Coventry, South, and taking into consideration the possibility that the measures suggested by the motor trade may prove inadequate to deal with various infringements arising from the distribution of new cars, he will keep before him for consideration the necessity for setting up a committee of inquiry to receive evidence and make recommendations on the admitted abuses now prevailing.

I am not prepared to assume, in advance, that the new measures decided upon by the motor trade will prove inadequate. I shall, of course, continue to watch the situation closely and shall not hesitate to consider any further action which may appear necessary.

I have given the right hon. Gentleman further information. As, a week ago, he stated that deposits should be returned to people on request, what action does he propose to take against the Stanbourne Motor Company, Pokes-down Hill, Bournemouth; Westover Garage Limited, Bournemouth; and H. Saunders and Co., 140, Golders Green Road, N.W.?—

On a point of order. The Minister gave that information last week, Sir, and I should like your guidance as to whether I am not in order in giving him examples of where that procedure has not been followed?

That depends on the extent of the supplementary question. Supplementary questions could be indefinitely prolonged if every hon. Member claimed to give a large number of examples in support of his contentions.


asked the Minister of Supply whether he will arrange some system of priorities in allocation of new motorcars which will enable taxi-cab owners to obtain a fair share of new cars available.

I trust that the new arrangements decided upon by the motor trade will assure to taxi-cab owners a fair share of the cars available.

While thanking the Minister for his reply, may I ask him to realise that taxis have to conform to certain standards or be taken off the road, and that the supply of new cars to this industry is a matter of employment or unemployment to the taxi-men concerned?

I am sure that this is well in the minds of the motor industry, but the hon. Member's Question will bring it to their notice once more.

Lead Supplies (Licensing)


asked the Minister of Supply if, in view of the widespread and growing thefts of lead from churches, private homes and buildings of historical interest, he will consider introducing a licensing system for all purchasers of lead.

A licensing system has been in operation for some time under the Copper, Lead and Zinc Distribution Order, 1951. For administrative reasons the purchasers of small quantities of such metals were not included.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Suffolk alone no fewer than 12 churches, and more in Norfolk, have suffered in this way? Although the amount of lead involved is small, it is essential that measures should be taken to stop these thefts. In the very nature of things, it is almost impossible to protect churches at night.

To control all small purchases of lead would mean licensing every rag and bone merchant in the country, and that would be extremely difficult.

Factories, Scotland (Ingots And Scrap)


asked the Minister of Supply if he is aware of the present short-time working in certain branches of Scottish steel production and of the particular difficulties arising from the Scottish industries' traditional dependence on charging a high proportion of scrap; and whether he will take particular account of these circumstances in considering the allocation of ingots and scrap obtained as a result of the recent agreements with the United States of America and Western Germany.

Yes, Sir. These factors will certainly be taken into account by the steel industry in arranging the allocation of imported ingots and scrap.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in past economic crises the industries of Clydeside have taken rather more than their fair share of the beating and, in facing the new and unprecedented difficulties of today, will my right hon. Friend keep their special circumstances in mind and ensure that they do not again suffer disproportionately?

Yes, Sir, I certainly will, but my hon. Friend will realise that scrap is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain and that the only satisfactory long-term solution is the production of more pig-iron.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion of the ingots he intends importing in the near future he is prepared to allocate to Scotland? Scotland is becoming very concerned about this. There will be short-time working and unemployment in a certain factory there unless it is given a fair share of the scrap which comes in.

Reinforcing Steel


asked the Minister of Supply what action is being taken to increase the supply of reinforcing rods and wire; what is the present output; and what is the proposed output by the end of 1952.

Present output of reinforcing steel is at the rate of about 260,000 tons a year. Steps are being taken to increase supply, both by the expansion of output and by imports from America.

Centurion Tank (Cost)


asked the Minister of Supply what steps he proposes to take to reduce the price of the Centurion tank.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Cromwell tank cost £10,000 in 1945 and that in 1950 the cost of the Centurion tank was £35,000 and that it has now risen to £38,000—enough to build 20 houses? Is he just awaiting suggestions from me before he does some-think about it?

The weight and complexity of a tank, and the cost of living as a whole, have increased during that time.

Cloth Imports


asked the Minister of Supply when delivery will start of cloth ordered abroad for re-armament; and what is the maximum rate of delivery per month or quarter called for by the contracts.

Deliveries began early in 1951 and have continued since then at an increasing rate. The contracts stipulate a completion date and not a rate of deliveries.

Can my right hon. Friend tell us when the contracts will be completed? Can their completion be speeded up and the orders which his predecessor in the Socialist Government placed abroad now be given to Lancashire?

The contracts end on different dates, but the bulk of them will be completed during the course of this year. The existence of these contracts is not in any way preventing our placing all the new orders that we can in Lancashire and elsewhere—which we are doing—in order to do what we can to help the industry at this difficult time.