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Trade And Commerce

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 9 May 1961

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Eggs (Imports From Poland And Roumania)

2.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if the sales of Polish eggs in Great Britain in the week be ginning 1st May were reduced to not more than 18,000 boxes, in accordance with the undertaking given to him by the Polish authorities; and if he will state the current sales of Roumanian eggs in the British market.

I understand from the Polish authorities that for technical reasons 18,900 boxes of Polish eggs were in fact sold in the shell egg market in the week beginning the 1st May. Shipments of Roumanian eggs are well under 1,000 boxes per week.

Can my right hon. Friend tell us what is the meaning of this phrase "for technical reasons"? Will he recall that only ten days ago the President of the Board of Trade gave a definite undertaking that the sales of Polish eggs would not be more than 18,000 cases? The number has now been reduced to 11,000 cases from this week onwards, but we do not want any fiddling about for technical reasons. Can my right hon. Friend say what this means?

We did not require the Poles to limit their sales to these figures, but that is what they told us they would do. They regret that they sold quantities in excess of that stated. The reason was that there was trouble over a ship which was delayed in handling cargo because of the dock strike. The Poles have told us that future sales of 11,000 cases a week will be reduced to take account of the excess of 900 boxes which were sold.

Kilwinning Industrial Estate

3.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will state the total cost of site preparation and servicing of Kilwinning industrial estate in the constituency of Central Ayrshire.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this site was prepared and serviced during the period of office of the Labour Government, which also provided the one factory which is as yet on the site? Would not it be a good thing if the Board of Trade were to follow the excellent example of Irvine Town Council, by providing suitable buildings on the rest of this industrial estate, ensuring that they are utilised in the way in which the council has utilised its buildings in the area? Would not this attract industrialists from over a wide area?

I will take note of that suggestion. The original factory is now being extended to accommodate about double the number of workers.

Cotton Goods (Imports)

4.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will circulate details of the importation of cotton piece goods and yarns for the first quarter of 1961 from the main exporting sources including Hong Kong; and if he will make a statement on the refusal of the Hong Kong cotton textile industry to renew the voluntary undertaking given by it to the Cotton Board on 31st December, 1958, regarding limitation on the export of cotton goods from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom.

I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT figures of imports from the major supplying countries. My right hon. Friend has seen reports in the Press that the Hong Kong industry is not willing to renew the present undertaking when it expires in January, 1962, but, so far as he is aware, there has not yet been any direct communication between the Hong Kong industry and the Cotton Board. In the opinion of the Government it would be most regrettable if it does not prove possible to continue to deal with the problem by way of inter-industry agreement. The Government believe that an inter-industry agreement would be in the best interest of Hong Kong and Lancashire alike.

Will the right hon. Gentleman impress on the President of the Board of Trade the need for more modern organisational and marketing arrangements? Will his right hon. Friend also keep in touch with, or consult, the trade unions concerned in this vital question? In view of President Kennedy's action, has the right hon. Gentleman anything to say about the forthcoming international conference between importing and exporting countries on the subject?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend maintains close touch with all representatives of the industry. I should like to see a Question on the Order Paper about President Kennedy's proposal.

The following are the figures:

IMPORTS OF COTTON TEXTILES DURING JANUARY-MARCH, 1961

Main Supplying Countries

Cotton Cloth*
India62·6million square yards
Hong Kong20·2million square yards
Spain16·3million square yards
Japan16·3million square yards
Total Imports176·4million square yards
Cotton Yarn
India3·1million lbs.
Spain2·6million lbs.
Hong Kong1·1million lbs.
Italy1·0million lbs.
Total11·8million lbs.

* These figures relate to grey cloth only. They include grey cloth for finishing and re-export. Total imports of cotton piece goods of all kinds were 224 million square yards but a complete analysis by country of source is not yet readily available.

Resale Price Maintenance (Questionnaires)

5.

asked the President of the Board of Trade which organisations have been asked by him to distribute questionnaires on resale price maintenance to their members; and if he is satisfied that the selected bodies will provide a truly representative sample of opinions.

I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of those organistions whose help the Board of Trade enlisted for the purpose of circulating the official questionnaires to retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers. Care was taken to impress upon all concerned the importance of ensuring that all types of interest were included. The answers returned are being scutinised with the same end also in view. I am glad to take this opportunity of thanking all those who have helped us by sending out questionnaires and by answering them.

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the National Union of Towns-women's Guilds in included in the list of organisations?

The National Union of Townswomen's Guilds is not in the list. That organisation sent out a questionnaire, but we felt it necessary to point out that there was some danger that it might be thought to be an official questionnaire, and the union very readily corrected it. We are grateful to the N.U.T.G. for the interest it has shown.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that this kind of ad hoc inquiry would perhaps give misleading results? Would he consider following up the commendable initiative of the N.U.T.G. by arranging for a wider and more scientific inquiry, so that we can find out what the views of housewives really are about fixed prices?

That has been considered, but there are great difficulties in drafting questions which would get answers which would not be biased in some way or other.

Following is the statement:

Primary distribution of the Board's questionnaires to retailers was undertaken by the National Chamber of Trade, the Parliamentary Committee of the Cooperative Union, the Retail Distributors' Association and the Multiple Shops Federation. These organisations distributed the Board's questionnaires either directly or through other representative member organisations throughout the country. Distribution of questionnaires to wholesalers was effected by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce through its affiliated chambers. The Board of Trade, in consultation with the Federation of British Industries and the National Union of Manufacturers, selected manufacturers to whom questionnaires were dispatched. A number of questionnaires were also sent to individuals and firms who asked for them.

Committee On Consumer Protection

6.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what additional questions he has asked the Committee on Consumer Protection to consider since the Committee was appointed; when he expects the Committee to report; and if he will consider asking for interim reports on the more important questions arising either from the original terms of reference or subsequent submissions.

The Answer to the first part of the Question is, "None, Sir". My right hon. Friend understands that, if the Committee's present plans are not disturbed, there is some hope that its report may be ready in the early months of next year, though it is too soon for a firm prediction. He doubts the wisdom of seeking interim reports on particular aspects of consumer protection.

Is the hon. Gentleman's reply to the first part of my Question correct? We have had statements in the House on other questions which have been submitted to the Committee for its investigation. Would he not agree that, as this Committee has been on the job now for two years, it might be helpful to it to ask it to publish interim reports, much on the same lines as the Report which it published on safety regulations?

It is not true that we have asked the Committee to investigate further questions. We have, however, from time to time sent it further evidence. In answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, the danger is, again, that we should simply hold up the inquiries if we asked the Committee to find, at the present time, answers to particular questions which we might put to it. We think it better that it should get along in accordance with its plans.

In view of the fact that the last interim Report brought out some amazing information, which resulted in some action being taken, does not the hon. Gentleman think that some "headaches" which have been sent to the Committee for consideration could be dealt with almost at once? In this way, something could be done without our having to wait for a very long time.

Most of these questions are, in some way or another, related. We think it better to allow the Committee to consider them all together.

Pekin (Trade Fair)

7.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will seek to arrange for a British Trade Fair to be held in Pekin.

The organisation of trade fairs is primarily a matter for industry, and I am, therefore, passing on the hon. Member's suggestion to the trade bodies concerned.

While welcoming that reply, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that some of us have been employed in manufacturing large-scale electrical plant and equipment for China for many years? Is he aware that many of China's leading electrical engineers were employed and trained amongst us? There is enormous goodwill in this. Has not the time arrived when we should be doing something on the lines I have suggested?

I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said will be considered by the trade, to whom I am referring his proposal.

British Trade Fair, Moscow

8.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will assist all persons in the United Kingdom who so desire to visit the British Trade Fair in Moscow, and to assist in this respect parties or representatives of firms who have exhibits in the fair; and if, in order to promote the United Kingdom export trade, he will arrange for films to be taken of the fair.

My right hon. Friend has no reason to suppose that persons in the United Kingdom who wish to travel to Moscow to see the British Trade Fair will be unable to do so. As he told the House on the 30th March, no special facilities have been arranged to enable people to attend the fair. I understand that some films of the fair will be taken.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this fair will probably be the largest ever held in Russia, and that there is great interest among managements and workpeople in this country about it? Does not he also agree that they have taken great pride in our exhibits? Would it not be a good idea to encourage this kind of thing by such visitations as this?

Yes, Sir. It is a very pleasant proposal, and it is surely for the firms concerned to make any arrangements they wish.

Development Projects, Scotland

9.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he intends taking to increase development projects by the National Research and Development Corporation in Scotland.

My right hon. Friend has already asked the Corporation to bear the needs of Scotland in mind when placing contracts. The Corporation sends the Scottish Council each week a list of the inventions which it is making available for commercial licensing.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Appendix 2 of the Report of the National Research and Development Corporation, thirty-five projects are reviewed, but that only one of them is in Scotland? Is it not disgraceful that a Government Department should finance development and research in thirty-five projects and that all but one of them should be in England when the need in Scotland is so great?

The difficulty is that the choice of firms with which to place contracts for development is liable to be restricted to a small number particularly interested in this kind of work. The choice is not wide open, nor can the Corporation itself set up firms to develop the various inventions.

According to the list, the majority of these projects are in university institutions and technical colleges. There are plenty of universities and technical colleges in Scotland, yet only one project is in Scotland—in Glasgow—and the rest are in the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London and at other universities in the South.

I am quite certain that the Corporation will take note of what the hon. Member has said. I have said that we have drawn the attention of the Corporation to the needs of Scotland in this respect.

New Factories, Durham

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many applications have so far been made to his Department for new factories in Durham County; how many have been granted; and what are the prospects for new factory building in 1961–62.

Since the Local Employment Act came into force, thirteen applications for new Board of Trade factories in County Durham have been received; of these eight were approved, but four were subsequently withdrawn by the applicants. Three are now being considered. The applications approved for new factories and extensions built by the Board of Trade, excluding the withdrawals, provide for 488,000 sq. ft. of space, but I cannot say how much of this building will be completed in 1961–62. If the last part of the Question refers to all new factories or extensions, whether privately financed or Government financed, there have been seventy-two applications for I.D.C.s covering 1,716,000 sq. ft. in the last twelve months.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I am very grateful for that reply? Could he say whether any representations have been made about the disused Army site which is not in operation at the moment? Have any representations been made that his Department should take over that site from the War Office for use for industrial development? If not, will the hon. Gentleman make representations to his regional office to see what inquiries can be set in motion about such a development?

I should like to have notice of that question. Offhand, I should say that the Board of Trade can take over sites only if they are in development districts.

Can my hon. Friend say what all this means in terms of jobs and extra employment? Could he go out of his way to visit us in Sunderland to see a new factory which is about to be opened there in the near future?

I should be glad to do anything the hon. Member invites me to do, if at all possible. The total number of jobs in prospect in the county is 14,500.

Bankruptcies

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what was the number of bankruptcies for the years 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960; and how these figures compare with 1951 to 1954.

With permission, I will circulate the figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Could the hon. Gentleman say whether the figures are up or down? Has he any opinion as to the reasons for such bankruptcies?

Last year the figures were up, but I do not think that it would be safe to draw any deductions from one year alone.

Will my hon. Friend say what is the position in regard to the revision of the out-of-date law on this subject in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee which considered it and reported some years ago?

The figures are as follows:

19562,13619511,816
19572,06119522,043
19582,25019532,222
19592,30119542,176
19602,801

European Economic Community

12.

asked the President of the Board of Trade, in view of the changed situation concerning the Common Market, if he will institute a detailed study of the likely advantages and disadvantages to United Kingdom trade if Great Britain were to join the European Economic Community.

I am not certain what "changed situation" the hon. Member has in mind, but we have constantly under study the likely advantages and disadvantages to United Kingdom trade of various possible forms of closer economic association in Europe.

Does not the Minister of State think that it would be useful to communicate to a wider sphere, particularly the House of Commons, what some of those advantages and disadvantages are? This movement has gone on for some time now. We have had almost incomprehensible statements of an unhelpful nature from the President of the Board of Trade. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be more useful to set out in a White Paper some of the obvious advantages and some of the disadvantages there may be for us, so that we may understand the problem?

The basic facts about our trade are available from a number of publications. I shall be glad to give the hon. Member the details. As to the wider suggestion of a White Paper, I doubt whether it would have any value at present, but I will make sure that the suggestion is brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend.

Factory, Glenrothes

13.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what representations have been made to him concerning the prospect of a factory closure in Glenrothes, Fife; and whether he will make a statement on this development.

The owner of the factory concerned has recently outlined his difficulties to the Board of Trade Office for Scotland, but my right hon. Friend has no power to give assistance in such cases as this.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that this is just the kind of case in which Board of Trade help would be beneficial, not only to the owner, but to the people employed there? Is he aware that Mr. Thomson came to see me on Sunday and that he outlined a very promising venture? All he needs is a little help from the President of the Board of Trade. Will the right hon. Gentleman urgently reconsider the matter in view of the great psychological importance of it in the new town?

I do not think that my right hon. Friend could reconsider this particular case because he has no powers as Glenrothes is not in a development district.

Companies (Solicitation Of Money Deposits)

14.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what are the reasons for delay in introducing legislation to regulate the solicitation of money deposits by companies; and when he intends to introduce such legislation.

The reason is the difficulty of framing requirements, particularly as regards the contents of the accounts to be published, which will give the depositor an adequate measure of protection without being unduly burdensome or hampering to legitimate business. As regards the latter part of the Question, I regret that I am not in a position to add to previous replies on this subject.

While appreciating the difficulties and the points which my hon. Friend has made, may I ask if he is aware that legislation on this subject was first foreshadowed four and a half years ago in the Queen's Speech of 1956? Does not he think it time that we had legislation on this subject? Will he and his Department kindly look at the matter again to see if we can have legislation during this Session, as has already been promised?

We are looking at the matter all the time. The basic trouble is that there are many ways in which this control might be effected and we have to examine all of them with the greatest of care.

London Dock Strike

15.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what estimate he has made of the loss caused to the export trade by the recent London dock strike.

We have lost some export trade, but my right hon. Friend can make no estimate of the amount. Nor can he estimate the damage caused by delays in deliveries to overseas customers for the second time within six months.

Is it not the case that when it is working the Port of London is an efficient port? Can the right hon. Gentleman say what steps he is taking in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour to try to iron out the difficulties when a few men are obstructive and there is loss to the country as a whole?

The Rochdale Committee will be looking into all aspects of working at the docks, including management-labour relations.

Should not this strike illustrate to importers and business people the folly of concentrating so much traffic in the Port of London when they could make use of other ports in other parts of the country which have a better record of labour relations, including the South Wales ports and, above all, the Port of Barry?