HC Deb 07 February 1940 vol 357 cc208-9
48. Mr. E. Smith

asked the Minister of Supply to what extent difficulties have been again experienced with firms or an association of firms manufacturing machine tools which are urgently required; in how many cases have they refused to submit their books or costing systems for an investigation by Government officials; what steps are being taken to deal with the matter; what is the percentage of profit that the Government are prepared to allow these firms; and, in view of the urgency and difficulties, whether he will take early steps to take over or control this section of industry, or set up shadow factories, in order that the best results can be obtained at the minimum of cost?

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Burgin)

The Machine Tool Trades Association recognises the statutory powers now conferred on the Government to investigate costs, and no resistance on the part of individual firms is anticipated. The method of procedure for checking prices is under consideration. I am not prepared to announce a general margin of profit which would be applicable to the whole industry. As regards the last part of the Question, the industry is already controlled. Subject to this, the problem of obtaining the necessary machine tools in the time required can best be solved by the willing co-operation of the industry.

Mr. Smith

Does that reply mean that the evidence tendered before a committee of this House by a representative of the Treasury is not accurate?

Mr. Burgin

It means that the evidence before the Select Committee was all tendered prior to the passing of the Ministry of Supply Act. In the Ministry of Supply Act, compulsory powers were taken to investigate costs. Those powers did not exist before, and because of the knowledge that those powers now exist there is not the slightest difficulty in costing the price of any maker of machine tools.

Mr. A. Edwards

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that his Department is not fixing the price of machine tools; and if so, will he consider some cases which I have put before him in which the Department has decided at what price tools shall be sold?

Mr. Burgin

I did not say that. I said that I was not prepared to announce a general margin of profit applicable to large numbers of different instruments; but I am always willing to consider any specific instances that hon. Members care to bring to my notice.