HC Deb 06 July 1937 vol 326 cc165-8
29. Mr. Banfield

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that users of steel are hard hit owing to the inability of English rolling-mills to supply requirements and that considerable orders are being placed in the United States to prevent a partial closing of factories; whether he will take the necessary steps to reduce the duty to a uniform 10 per cent.; and will he see that no effort is spared to increase supplies of billets to the rolling-mills of this country?

30. Mr. Pilkington

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to make a statement as to the decision of the Import Duties Advisory Committee concerning any increase cf iron and steel imports?

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

On the recommendation of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, two Orders have been issued whereby the duties on many categories of imported iron and steel, including billets, will be substantially reduced as from tomorrow.

Mr. Banfield

Will the right hon. Gentleman do what he can at the moment to assist a number of small manufacturers who are unable to carry on their duties, whose men are unemployed, and whose businesses are losing all the value of their goodwill?

Mr. Stanley

I think the hon. Member has the best of reasons for knowing that I am doing that, because he brought a case to my notice, with the result that they did obtain some steel.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

Do we understand that Birmingham has now become entirely a Free Trade city?

Mr. Stanley

No, I would not like the right hon. Gentleman to take any such view.

Mr. Louis Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of the industrialists concerned hold the view that this acute shortage of steel has been grossly exaggerated, and will he and his Department exercise some caution, so that increased quantities of materials are not produced that might mean a surplus production?

Miss Wilkinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman's Department bringing any pressure to bear to alter the restrictive policy of the Iron and Steel Federation, of which the hon. Gentleman behind him is so eloquent a member?

Mr. Stanley

Of course, these things have to be very carefully handled. There is an abnormal pressure for steel at the moment, but we cannot anticipate that the demand will always continue at such a level. We have to avoid the danger of excess capacity and then the demand falling off.

32 and 33. Captain Strickland asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) on what date the attention of his Department was first drawn to the probable shortage of home-produced steel supplies; and what steps were taken to investigate and meet the difficulty;

(2) on what date the shortage of home-produced steel supplies was first brought to the notice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and by whom?

Mr. Stanley

The possibility that special steps would be necessary to meet the increased demand for steel in this country was brought to the notice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee by the British Iron and Steel Federation in the autumn of 1935. Arrangements were then made with the Continental Cartel for imports in excess of those provided for in the agreement with that body. As my hon. Friend is aware, much development of home productive capacity has been undertaken since then, and further purchases have been made abroad. The sudden increase in the world demand in the autumn of 1936 has, however, seriously affected the flow of imports, and various adjustments of import duties have been made for the purpose of maintaining and increasing the rate of importation.

Captain Strickland

Will my right hon. Friend give an answer to the first part of the question, as to when the Government first became aware of the possibility of this shortage, and, secondly, in view of the reply which he gave a few moments ago that there might be a necessity to revert to a higher tariff, is he satisfied that the Import Duties Advisory Committee have the power to act speedily enough to meet public urgencies such as are now in existence?

Mr. Stanley

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, of course, the Government were aware of the action of the Iron and Steel Federation in bringing this matter to the notice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. With regard to the second part, yes, I do believe that the committee can act with sufficient speed, and my hon. and gallant Friend will, of course, realise that the reduction of the duties is of a temporary character.

Captain Strickland

Is it a fact that the Government were aware of the approaching shortage as far back as last December and that they left it to the consumers of steel themselves to bring it before the Advisory Committee?

Mr. Shinwell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the rate of importation has increased since the duties were modified?

Mr. Stanley

I could not give the actual figures, but, as the House knows, the cartel countries have not been able to fill the quotas of imports which were allowed to them.

Sir Percy Harris

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the smaller users of steel are not exploited by the international cartel, and that they have a fair chance as compared with the bigger consumers who have preferential treatment?

Mr. Stanley

They do have a fair chance, and if the hon. Member has any evidence in support of the imputation which he has made, I shall be only too glad to receive it and to consider it.

Sir P. Harris

Has not evidence already been given in this House?

Mr. Stanley

No, Sir. I know that one hon. Member who was asked to send it to my predecessor said he would get the evidence, but he failed to do so.

36. Mr. A. Jenkins

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the steel mills at Pontnewynydd are working short time in consequence of a shortage of supplies of steel; that considerable dissatisfaction exists amongst the workpeople because of the unemployment resulting; and whether he is taking steps to ensure that adequate supplies of steel are made available to the works in question?

Mr. Stanley

My attention had not previously been drawn to the difficulties of these particular works, but I am satisfied that all practicable steps are being taken to increase supplies of steel to the tinplate and other steel using industries.

Mr. Jenkins

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there is a fair distribution among the small works of the amount of supplies that are available, and is he aware that Messrs. Lysaght, of Newport, a very substantial concern, recently made an application to the joint board of employers and workpeople to be allowed to work overtime, whereas small works such as those referred to in the question are not able to work half-time?

Mr. Stanley

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to these facts. I would like to look into them.

Mr. Davidson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that certain steel interests are stating that there is no shortage, but that many small firms are telling their work-people that there is a shortage; and can the right hon. Gentleman explain that contradiction?