HC Deb 21 March 1923 vol 161 cc2708-15

I beg to move, That steps should be taken to remedy the state of unemployment existing in the granite quarrying industry, seeing that during 1922 156,800 tons of broken granite, of a value of £171,320, were imported into this country from Belgium and France, and used by local authorities in this country, whereas all granite required for roads can be obtained in this country at no additional cost and would give considerable employment in the broken granite trade, the labour being some 50 per cent. of the value of the material. At this late hour I do not know whether I can deal adequately with the subject of this Motion, it relates entirely to the use of broken granite for road surfaces, and does not apply in any way to curbs or sets or any of the granite which is used for purposes other than road surfaces. The main point I wish to make is that there is a very large quantity of foreign granite being imported into this country, largely from Belgium and France, and some quantity from Norway. I do not want to be hostile in any way to Belgium and France, but I feel that there is a grave injustice to our own countrymen, when there is so much unemployment in the quarrying trade, and when our country can provide granite equal in quality and quantity to that which we get from abroad. Further, there is no saving in using the foreign material. Those who are supplying that material are able to make a much larger profit than our own people would make, because the rate of exchange helps them. There is something more to be said for using our own material. In order that there may be no misunderstanding, let me say at the outset that I have no financial interest of any kind in any quarry: I have not a share or a shilling invested in any quarry, granite or otherwise. Therefore. I cannot be said to take up this question because of my own pocket, or the pockets of those for whom I am speaking.

I put down a question on this subject some time ago. I had heard of, and I had seen foreign granite coming in and I was interested to know why foreign granite should be imported when we have so much of our own. The present Postmaster-General answered the question and stated the quantities of granite which have come from Belgium to France. My attention was particularly drawn to this matter by seeing at Richborough some extraordinarily large barges which were brought across filled with broken granite. This is being used on roads in Kent and adjoining counties. The amount of granite which is being used from our own quarries in this country at present is something like 2,000,000 tons less than in 1913–1914. That is a very serious diminution, especially remembering the very large quantity in excess of 1913–1914 which should be in use on roads at the present time, when the taxation on motors is very largely applied to the maintenance of roads. The larger quantity of the foreign granite in use is the Quenast granite which comes from Belgium. The roost extraordinary thing about this granite is that it finds its way into this country and is sold principally by a firm calling itself the London Granite Company. Many local authorities, I believe, think they are purchasing British granite because they buy it from the London Granite Company. They are the people, who deliver this stone. I do not say anything about that—they are quite right, if they would only trade as the Belgian Granite Company or the Quenast Granite Company, but I think there is reason for complaint that they should call themselves the London Granite Company and thereby mislead people into thinking that it is British granite. As to price, I find that Kensington—the Royal Borough of Kensington—is using Quenast granite, and whereas in their contract the price is 22s. 11d., the price of Guernsey granite is 22s. l0d. I cannot conceive why they should go out of their way to use foreign granite when they can get equally good material for a penny per ton less. The rate of exchange makes it easy for foreign firms to keep within a few pence per ton of our own people. If there was a difference of four or five shillings per ton there might be something in it, but as the foreign price is practically the same as that at which our own people can produce and supply the granite, it is very strange that British people should accept this granite. I am not finding fault with the quality even of the Quenast granite. It is probably as good or nearly as good as the British granite, if any foreign article can be as good as a British article. I find that in Uckfield, Sussex, they have been buying this Quenast granite from the London Granite Company at 25s. 6d. per ton, whereas they have had British granite quoted them at 21s. 5d. to 22s. 9d. a ton. That is another of those extraordinary things that one cannot understand Again, at Chingford, while they have foreign granite at 22s. 2d., there is some of our granite which they have had offered them at 21s. 8d. What I want to impress upon the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is that I think, at a time like the present, when there is so much unemployment and they are giving large grants for road construction by the unemployed, and also out of the motor car taxation fund, our local authorities should be requested to use British granite. British granite is distributed almost evenly over the whole of the country. There is plenty of Scottish granite; there is North Western. Cum berland and Westmoreland; there is the Welsh granite, and I am sure our Welsh friends will agree that there is some very good granite in Wales; there is the Western, comprising the Clee Hills district, South Shropshire, Gloucestershire, and Somersetshire; there is the Cornish group; there is the Midland group, principally in Leicestershire and Yorkshire; the North Eastern, Durham, and Northumberland; and there are the Channel Islands, which, I suppose, are absolutely granite from start to finish, and which send into this country some of the best granite for road making that we use. There, is also some reason at the present time, I think, why we should give them a preference, because the Government are asking them to make a contribution to Imperial funds, and if we are going to spoil their trade by using foreign granite, I can quite imagine them turning round and saying: "Under these circumstances, can you expect a contribution?"


We shall have to pay for it.


We have got to pay for it, certainly, but do you expect to get anything without paying for it? I am not suggesting that you should not pay even the foreigner for it. The granite industry in the Channel Islands is the second largest industry that they have and I understand that their quarry people are not nearly fully employed. It certainly behoves us, who are asking them to make a contribution, to endeavour to foster their trade. I have already mentioned the foreign granite which is being brought across to Rich- borough and other ports and used in the various South Eastern and similar counties. The principal culprits using this foreign stone are East and West Sussex, Kent, some parts of Surrey, East and West Suffolk, Essex, and many of the urban and rural district councils. As I have mentioned, even some of the London boroughs are using this material.


Could they not be deported?


I hope I have shown enough at the moment to ensure that some notice will be taken of this question, and some effort made to use British material where it is equal to or better than foreign granite. Not only should British material be used, but now, when there is unemployment in most industries and in the quarrying trade, we ought to use British material. I urge upon the Government—the Minister of Health might also help in this direction—that when the various local authorities are placing contracts for granite, they should be asked to give the preference, if any, to British material.


And to Good Old Scotland.


Yes, and to Good Old Scotland. There is some good granite there.


On a point of Order. I think the hon. Member is leaving the House short of something. He ought to tell the House exactly—


That is not a point of Order.


There is no doubt I have left out a good deal. I have had to do so, because my time is so extremely short. It has been necessary, because I want to get an assurance that we shall have some consideration for the use of British granite.


I beg to second the Motion.


The House will appreciate that in the six minutes left to me, I cannot deal with this question as I should like, but I will touch on a few points. My hon. Friend suggested that we should accede to his Motion because unemployment was so rife in the quarrying trade. But unemployment in the quarrying trade is distinctly less than unemployment in most of the other trades of the country to-day. The rate of unemployment is only 7 per cent. compared with 11 per cent. in other trades. Then the hon. Member laid great stress on the fact that last year 157,000 tons of broken granite were imported into this country. He asks the Government to do all it can to urge road authorities to use nothing but granite produced in these Islands. Again I would point out to the House that the problem of this imported granite is really a trivial one compared with the total output of broken granite in this country The hon. Member said that 157,000 tons of granite were imported—


That is only from Belgium and France.

Colonel ASHLEY

I am only dealing with the Motion on the Paper. Those 157,000 tons compare with between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 tons produced in this country. Therefore, the seriousness of the amount of imported granite, in its effect on unemployment, is really trivial as compared with the serious unemployment in other trades. When yon consider that in the City of Glasgow, alone, there are 80,000 people unemployed, and then we have the hon. Member bringing forward his Motion dealing with some 2,000 unemployed, although I have every sympathy with it, I cannot regard it as so important as many other phases of unemployment with which the House has to deal.

What the House wants to know is the attitude of the Government, and the principle adopted in dealing with this question. Since I have been Parliamentary Secretary, in all cases of tenders in my Department in connection with arterial roads which are controlled directly by the Ministry of Transport, we have always asked for tenders on the basis of the following Clause: Save with the consent of the Minister in writing under the hand of an Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, no imported material, and no manufactured articles not wholly manufactured in Great Britain, shall be used upon the works. except such materials as can neither he manufactured nor obtained in Great Britain, and for which no suitable substitute can be so manufactured or obtained. That is, in all arterial works under our control we have nothing but stuff produced in this country, except in the special cases in which the Minister or the Assistant Secretary may think it necessary. We must keep the power to have imported stuff, in order to break a ring. That is absolutely necessary in order to protect the ratepayers of this country.


Is there any ring?

Colonel ASHLEY

Of that I have no official knowledge. That is, so far as works over which the Government has direct control are concerned. In respect of road work where the Minister assists the local authorities by a grant, the House will appreciate that local authorities are independent bodies of great power, and that we have to deal with them in a way very different from the way in which we deal with our own contracts. The policy of the Ministry is this, that for the present, and so long as the present acute unemployment lasts, in the absence of very special circumstances which, to my mind, mean rings, local authorities should be urged to place in this country contracts in relation to works, assisted by our grants. We cannot insist that

great corporations shall do certain things. We can only urge them to do them. The House will appreciate that the local authorities are very jealous of their own powers. We are always hearing that beaurocratic control from Whitehall is a thing that they will not tolerate. Therefore, our policy is that, by putting the case of unemployment before them, and putting the case that they must be patriots first and consider the ratepayers afterwards, we hope and trust that what my hon. Friend desires will be brought about, and it has been brought about in the ease of contracts which are directed by my Department.

Question put, That steps should be taken to remedy the state of unemployment existing in the granite quarrying industry, seeing that during 1922 156,800 tons of broken granite, of a value of £171,320, was imported into this country from Belgium and France, and used by local authorities in this country, whereas all granite required for roads can be obtained in this country at no additional cost and would give considerable employment in the broken granite trade, the labour being some 50 per cent. of the value of the material.

The, House divided: Ayes. 58; Noes, 88.

Division No. 57.] AYES. [11.1 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk, Peel
Alexander, Col. M. (Southwark) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wllfrid W. Hawke, John Anthony Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Hay, Major T. W. (Norfolk, South) Sanderson, Sir Frank B.
Barlow, Rt. Hon. Sir Montague Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Shipwright, Captain D.
Barnston, Major Harry Howard, Capt. D. (Cumberland, N.) Sparkes, H. W.
Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H (Devlzes) Hudson, Capt. A. Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Jodrell, Sir Neville Paul Stott, Lt.-Col. W. H.
Brown, J. W. (Middlesbrough, E.) Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid H.
Button, H. S. King, Captain Henry Douglas Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Clayton, G. C. Lort-Williams, J. Wallace, Captain E.
Cope, Major William Lynn, R. J. Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Courthope. Lieut.-Col. George L. Margesson, H. D. R. Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.
Crock, C. W. (East Ham, North) Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)
Dawson, Sir Philip Murchison, C. K. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Leslie O. (P'tsm'th, S.)
Doyle, N. Grattan Nall, Major Joseph Wise, Frederick
Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark) Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Glbbs, Colonel George Abraham Oman, Sir Charles William C. Yerburgh, R. D. T.
Greene, Lt.-Col. sir W. (Hack'y, N.) Parker, Owen (Kettering)
Greer wood, William (Stockport) Pennefather, De Fonblanque TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Lorden and Major Birchall.
Adams D. Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Herriotts, J.
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.) Hill, A.
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') England, Lieut.-Colonel A. Hinds, John
Bowdler, W. A. Fairbairn, R. R. Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mosstey)
Brotherton, J. Gosling, Harry Hou ton, John Plowright
Brown, Major D. C. (Hexham) Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Hutchison, Sir R. (Kirkcaldy)
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Greenall, T. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)
Buchanan, G. Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor)
Chapple, W. A. Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) John, William (Rhondda, West)
Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln) Grundy, T. W. Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)
Duncan, C Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Ede, James Chuter Hardie, George D. Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)
Edge, Captain Sir William Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill) Jones, R. T. (Carnarvon)
Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East) Rees, Sir Beddoe Sullivan, J.
Lawson, John James Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)
Lee, F. Ritson, J. Thornton, M.
McLaren, Andrew Roberts, Frederick O. (W. Bromwich) Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)
Marshall, Sir Arthur H. Russell, William (Bolton) Waring, Major Walter
Maxton, James Saklatvala, S. Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.
Murray, John (Leeds, West) Salter, Dr. A. Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Murray, R, (Renfrew, Western) Sexton, James Watts-Morgan. Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Newman, sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Shakespeare, G. H. Webb, Sidney
O'Grady, Captain James Shinwell, Emanuel Welsh, J. C.
Oliver, George Harold Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Whiteley, W.
Paling, W. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Williams, David (Swansea, E.)
Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry Smith, T. (Pontefract) Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Pattinson, S. (Horncastle) Snell, Harry Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Phillipps, Vivian Stephen, Campbell Wintringham, Margaret
Potts, John S. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Pringle. W. M. R. Sturroek, J. Leng TELLERS FOR THEOES.—
Mr. Amnion and Mr. Nell Maclean.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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