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Scrap Mental (Salvage)

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1952

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Butcher.]

1.16 a.m.

Though I welcome the opportunity of the quieter waters of the Adjournment I regret that I should be the one that should detain the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply on the eve, if not on the occasion, of his wedding anniversary.

I am very glad that this Adjournment debate is not taking place tomorrow night, and I wish my hon. Friend many happy returns of the day and a successful term of office at the Ministry of Supply.

It is appropriate that earlier this week we discussed the economic situation when we debated the Finance Bill on Second Reading, for that is the right background for the few remarks I want to make tonight. Every thinking person in this country knows the gravity of the situation that faces this country, and the vital necessity to extract every bit of use from our existing resources. Unfortunately, I think that there is considerable waste in this country.

Two months ago I sought to call attention to the great wastage of apples in this country, and I pointed out that, in an average year, between 50,000 and 100,000 tons of apples were wasted, and that that represented millions of gallons of fruit juice, thousands of tons of pectin, which is imported into this country from dollar sources when we can get it, and a certain amount of animal fodder. Recently, in the Budget debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) called attention to the loss of oil, because we do very little refining of waste lubricating oil. There are many other examples of wasted materials which could be salvaged.

But tonight I wish to speak, briefly, of the undoubted amount of waste scrap metal which exists in this country which could and should, I think, be salvaged. I am convinced that up and down this country, in homes, in back gardens, in factories, on farms, in dumps, and in many other places, there is scrap metal which, in aggregate, would make a considerable addition to our stocks of vital raw materials resources. The sources of foreign imported scrap have diminished in the last two or three years, and the possibility of delay of American supplies of finished steel indicated this week makes a thorough scrap drive in this country of paramount importance. Our blast furnaces are starved of scrap metal.

I hope that the Minister will agree with what I have said and that he will be able to tell us this morning what his Department are doing in the matter. I content myself with asking a series of questions which, if we have the answers, will give a fair idea, I think, of what is being done or what can be done. In the first place, may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary this: Is he satisfied, or is his right hon. Friend satisfied, that everything possible is being done in his Department to encourage and fully to publicise the collection of scrap metal in the country? May I ask whether there is any central direction and co-ordination from the Ministry or whether this is left to the iron and steel industry? What is the co-operation, if any, between the industry and the Ministries?

May I ask whether there is an officer in the Ministry of Supply whose duty it is to attend to this matter and whose duty might be comparable to that of the Controller of Salvage, a position which existed in the last war? During the last war, too, there was the honorary advisors scheme which, I think, was a great success. May I ask whether there is any possibility of this scheme being re-started? I know that in 104 months from November, 1939, to June, 1948, the local authorities alone collected nearly 1¾ million tons of ferrous metal scrap and they also collected 53,500 tons of non-ferrous scrap. May I ask how the figures of collections made by local authorities today compare with the figures I have quoted for the war years?

Could not the local authorities be asked to do more in this matter? I believe that householders have much old iron—old flat irons, saucepans, fenders, broken firegrates, old bedsteads, old tins—which they would gladly be rid of, if they knew just how to get rid of it. Some local authorities, I know, collect this scrap metal, but I believe that in some of the Metropolitan boroughs they barge such scrap down the Thames for tipping, on the ground that recovery would not warrant the cost of installing segregation equipment.

Could not the Ministry advise here? Indeed, could not all the tips throughout the country be searched, and even the old bombed sites, although I believe there is not a great deal of scrap metal left today on the bombed sites. We know there is a scarcity of scrap and we also know there is a scarcity of tin. Recently, railwaymen were asked to look out for old scrap along their 19,000 miles of track. That appeal has, I understand, gone to the staff, which numbers 590,000.

May I ask what is being done in the other nationalised undertakings? What of the Coal Board? Is not there some scrap in the disused collieries and other workings? Have all these been combed for the possibility of finding scrap metal? Has any help been sought from the Gas and Electricity Boards? Or the Transport Commission? Or even from the Armed Services, because it is my belief that in these undertakings, quite apart from the homes and factories, there is much scrap metal which, in the aggregate, would make a useful contribution to our supply of raw materials.

I know that in many cases scrap merchants could not give an economic price. I therefore ask—is any subsidy being given, or has any subsidy been paid? If so, how is this administered, or does only the iron and steel industry make an offer of subsidy? In July next the last of London's tramcars will run and in the 350 miles of routes formerly covered, I maintain there is much scrap metal. Are these lines to be recovered? Cannot the Chancellor of the Exchequer be prevailed on to case the restriction on road expenditure where tramlines could usefully be retrieved?

Yes, as in Manchester, and, I think, in Liverpool where the iron and steel industry gave a subsidy as it was an uneconomic proposition, and a certain amount of metal was taken from those lines. Some road expenditure would be welcomed in London, because the wood setts are dangerous in bad weather, and this would be a use- ful opportunity of repairing and maintaining these roads, and, at the same time, getting scrap metal. There are other sources of scrap, too numerous to mention. In the main it is the public who must help. I am sorry to think that expert opinion suggests that 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. of the people are indifferent to salvage drives.

There is one other source that is worth investigating. There are thousands of electrical shops up and down the country holding thousands of tons of nuts and bolts in stock because there are so many different types of thread. This is waste, because so much is kept in stock that could otherwise be used. Is it not possible to have a standardised thread and thus make available all these other nuts and bolts which are really waste because they are kept in stock and are not likely to be used. Could the Ministry not give a lead here?

These are a few suggestions. There are many others. I think the chief question which might be asked is whether the gravity of the scrap position is really realised, even by the 3,000 scrap merchants in this country? I believe the position has to be made known and kept continually publicised. An appeal must be made on the grounds of patriotism. I risk a charge of being called Autolycus, because of the picking up unconsidered trifles, but I think it will have been worth while if, by a debate such as this and by publicity, we can make our nation become more scrap conscious. If this debate helps in that matter I suggest it will not have been in vain.

1.24 a.m.

I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) for the virile speech he has made. I would like to thank him for the kind things he said about me, which were somewhat embarrassing, and for giving me notice of the points he has made so clearly and concisely.

I wish to deal only with these points relating to metal, as he would expect when he asked me to reply to the debate. He made one reference to non-ferrous metal and I will make one in my reply. I think he will forgive me if I do not reply to him seriatim. I would like to make a point of general principle relating to salvage and waste material. All experience has shown that the best salvage schemes are those which use practical methods of recovery of particular commodities. It is most important to salvage the maximum of materials most economically. Salvage is essentially an economic proposition, it is unquestionably the responsibility for salvage rests with the industry which uses it.

This, I think—I hope the House will agree—is especially true of iron and steel scrap. There are 69 different types of ferrous scrap. The scrap merchants have to be, and are, experts in their trade. They and the iron and steel making industry know what can be used, how it can be used and how the materials should be collected, sorted and broken down to the required size.

The Ministry of Supply about which my hon. and gallant Friend asked, has no administrative, executive or financial responsibility for the procurement or collection or iron and steel scrap, or, indeed, of any scrap. We naturally dispose of our own scrap as quickly as we can, but, having said that, I must add that we have a joint responsibility for the iron and steel industry and we must, therefore, be concerned, as indeed hon. Members in the House are, with the steps that are being taken to procure and collect the scrap that the industry needs so badly.

My right hon. Friend has an honorary adviser—my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned this—who is the head of one of the largest scrap merchants in the world. My right hon. Friend has been in touch with other Ministers and has invited, and secured, their active help; for example, the Ministers in charge of the Service Departments and those in charge of other Departments who have a chance of influencing the disposal of scrap.

My hon. and gallant Friend made it clear that he understood the importance of scrap to the steel industry. There could, of course, be no doubt about that, but any opportunity that any of us have to make it more clear should, I am sure, be taken. One ton of scrap makes one ton of new steel. This one ton of scrap in steel making can replace one ton of pig iron and thereby save one ton of coke, which is in very short supply. Scrap makes steel quicker and in some cases better than pig iron can.

My hon. and gallant Friend quoted some figures. I will give him some which I think will reassure him. In 1951 just over 58 per cent. of the materials used for steel making were scrap. The previous year the proportion was 63 per cent. Pre-war, it used to be about 57 per cent.

Can my hon. Friend say how much out of those percentages was imported and how much was home collected?

The amount imported has varied over the last few years, but last year and this year there has been a substantial reduction, and it is because there has been this substantial reduction that it is so important at the moment that we should try to increase the amount of scrap which is "thrown up" as it is called, at home.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) anticipated the next point that I was about to make. My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the non-ferrous metal industry. It may interest him to know that scrap forms about 42 per cent. of the materials consumed in production. The consumption of scrap in 1951 was greater than in the war years. The steelworks purchased in 1951 about 250,000 tons of scrap more than their average annual purchase between 1940 and 1947.

Actually, the total amount of scrap used in 1951 in the industry was just over 9 million tons. That was consumed in steelworks and steel foundries. Of this the industry's own arisings amounted to nearly half. The rest comes from process scrap in the engineering industry, from capital scrap—that is, machinery and plant which is no longer of use—from domestic scrap such as is collected by the local authorities or by house-to-house collectors, from farm scrap, and from such operations as the removal of tramlines. I shall deal with some of these in a moment.

There is no doubt that the engineering industry, as a matter of course, gets rid of its process scrap as soon as it can. There is, however, some reason to believe that more could be done by industry to dispose of obsolete plant and machinery for which it has no further use. I have heard reports of excellent results in certain areas of local factory scrap drives organised by enthusiastic managing directors, and I would like to appeal for more special efforts.

It is on the other matters that my hon. and gallant Friend has particularly addressed questions to me, and which are the particular concern of the Scrap Drive Organisation. This Organisation was set up in January, 1951, by the British Iron and Steel Federation and the Joint Iron Council in close collaboration with the National Federation of Scrap Iron, Steel, and Metal Merchants. It launched this drive with the full support of the Ministry of Supply. In December last year, my right hon. Friend saw senior officials of the Scrap Drive Organisation to discuss what else could be done to increase collections, and thus help the substantial reduction of imported scrap.

Following that meeting the Organisation decided to intensify the scrap drive this year. Some 3,700 scrap merchants are licensed to trade in ferrous scrap, and I can assure the hon. Member that these merchants appreciate the national importance of their work. The scrap drive works through 10 district scrap drive committees, the vice-chairmen of which are leading scrap merchants in the district. The drive has been complimented by the scrap panel of the Economic Commission for Europe, which visited this country last year.

That Commission reported that the way the drive was organised in Great Britain could serve as an example for other countries. Hon. Members may be familiar with the figure of "Jack Scrap," which appears in many advertisements in this country. It has been adopted by the German industry for its scrap drive, with the name of "Schrott Otto." Scrap merchants are making every effort to improve collections and deliveries. In the first quarter of 1952, 2,000 more tons of scrap were delivered to steel works than in the first quarter of 1951. It may well be that the substantial increase in price last August encouraged the merchants.

Domestic scrap includes tins and other things which are put into refuse-bins and other ironware, etc., which is kept at home but no longer needed. There are 490 local authorities covering half of our population of 25 million, which are supporting the scrap drive and are separating and baling the scrap, or have arranged for the separation and baling of their scrap to be done by other local authorities. It might interest the House to know that to equip all the remaining important local authorities would cost at least £850,000, would take a long time, and would add to the tonnage of recoverable scrap only about 60,000 tons. I am aware of the special problem of certain riverside Metropolitan boroughs. I understand that about 6,000 tons of scrap is sent down the river each year and dumped. The only practicable scheme to save this scrap would cost about £250,000.

The Scrap Drive Organisation is always ready to consider and advise on any proposals put forward by these local authorities or by others. There is a special problem in regard to tin cans. There is first the problem which the local authorities have in collecting and baling, and then the problem of de-tinning. If the cans are not de-tinned they are useful to blast furnaces for making pig iron: if they are de-tinned they are useful for making steel. At present, de-tinning works in this country take only some 15,000 tons of used tin cans.

The scrap drive has also been successful in securing the agreement of some local authorities to make house-to-house collections in places where the private house-to-house rag and bone collector does not call. Experience in several boroughs, for example, Warrington, Walsall, Sunderland and Swansea indicates that there may be available about two tons of ferrous scrap per 1,000 people. This house-to-house collection is only practicable in populous areas so, in time, industry may get 50,000 tons from this source.

Special efforts have been made to collect scrap from farms. The 1951 drive for farm scrap was launched with the full support of the National Farmers' Union. In the country the scrap drive has received good co-operation and assistance from the farmers; but in some parts of the country more can still be done. In some counties special schemes have been adopted to arrange for the collection from farms scattered over a wide area. The special scheme involves a payment per ton for the scrap at the farm, but in some cases there are arrangements for collection at nominated points, sometimes railway station yards to which the farmers bring their scrap—and there a larger sum is paid in respect of transport costs of the scrap to those places. The scheme is reported to be working well.

Several questions have been raised recently on the arrangements made for the lifting of tramways no longer required for the running of trams. The total amount of steel laid in these tramway tracks which are going out of action is 50,000 tons in London and in the provinces is believed to be about 22,000 tons. The cost of lifting these rails is often heavy and special financial arrangements are therefore made by the Scrap Drive Organisation with local authorities where it is necessary. I understand that the Scrap Drive are in touch with the L.C.C. on the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend.

So far, tram lines for use as scrap have been secured from 11 local authorities. This tramline scrap is particularly good steel and, therefore, a valuable scrap to the steel-making industry. There are, of course, other sources of scrap such as the collieries, the railways and other nationalised industries. All the nationalised industries are co-operating in the scrap drive but here, too, it is important not to expect too much in the amount of scrap that can be made available by special efforts from any one source. Recently, there was a special survey of 30 collieries which disclosed that the total amount of scrap lying uncollected in them amounted to less than 700 tons.

I might interpose here to say that as other industries are helping the iron and steel makers, so the iron and steel makers help other industry and the public by making their coke-oven by-products available. Each year they sell 22,000,000,000 cubic feet of gas to outside consumers.

My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned nuts and bolts. It may interest him to know that nuts and bolts are now being manufactured to standard specifications laid down by the British Standards Institution. These nuts and bolts are described by the type of their thread, the pitch and number of threads to the inch. The main threads approved by the BSI are known in the trade as the BA (British Association) and Whitworth patterns.

I hope that all I have said will assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the metal-using industry and Government Departments, the scrap merchants and the iron and steel makers are all co-operating in the renewed effort to increase the amount of scrap to be delivered to the iron and steel makers. The Ministry of Supply follow the progress of the scrap drive with the closest concern and their fullest support, but there can be no doubt that the right machinery for the drive for the collection of scrap, is that which the industry itself has set up.

The House will probably be aware that on 5th March last my right hon. and noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced, in another place, that he was setting up an advisory panel on waste materials. The Chairman of the Scrap Drive Organisation has been appointed a member of this advisory panel. The panel will be working, when it considers steel scrap, in the closest co-operation with the Scrap Drive Organisation, and will be making inquiries in the course of the next few weeks into many of the problems which I have mentioned tonight.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter to Two o'Clock a.m.