HC Deb 06 June 1930 vol 239 cc2545-6

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether his attention has been drawn to the intention of the South African railway companies to place a large order for steel sleepers with Belgian, French, and German manufacturers; and whether he will make further representations to the South African railway companies to persuade them to place at least a portion of this order with British manufacturers?


My attention has not been drawn to this matter. If the hon. Member will furnish the necessary particulars, I shall be glad to have inquiry made. I am, however, pleased to say that, as I informed the House on the 20th May, an order for steel rails and various permanent way accessories, amounting to some 45,000 tons has recently been placed in this country by the Government of the Union of South Africa. I ought to take this opportunity of saying that I would deprecate any suggestion that any of our Dominions were not doing their best, or had not done their best to help me in these particular matters.


Was not this order for steel sleepers placed about two years ago, and is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the South African railways bought £250,000 worth of locomotives from Germany and that they would not run on their rails—Belgian rails which split and killed people—and that they had to come to Britain and buy British rails?


With your permission, Sir, and because of the importance of not allowing a statement to be made that would reflect upon one of our Dominions, I desire to say, at once, that this order has nothing to do with two years ago. It was less than four days ago that I completed it.


Would the right hon. Gentleman, in his dual capacity as Dominions Secretary and ex-Lord Privy Seal, do his utmost to ascertain what order it is which is referred to in the public Press, and to press the South African railways about it? I have no further information except that the South African railways are now placing this order and the matter is very urgent.


The difficulty is that considerable orders are at this moment being negotiated, and, when there are competitors from all parts of the world, it does not help to have to deal with matters of this kind across the Floor of the House. My experience is that it generally tends to do harm rather than good.