HC Deb 24 February 1948 vol 447 cc1909-18

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Popplewell.]

10.20 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)

I want tonight to raise a not unimportant question, that is, whether we are doing as well on the score of salvage as we might be doing. The mechanics of our salvage are not too bad. We have at the Board of Trade people who ate genuinely interested in the project. But although there are salvage merchants and local authorities engaged on this problem, one cannot help feeling that the machine is not working at the speed of which it is capable, and which the condition of the country demands. Unquestionably, public interest in salvage has declined. We must arrest that decline, which has taken place largely because of the false psychology which has prevailed since the end of the war, when people believed that we had come to the end of our difficulties and could return to the old pattern. No one now really believes that—unless it be the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Most people know that that is not so, and that collecting salvage must be regarded, not merely as a short-term measure to meet an emergency, but as a long-term part of our existence. "Waste not, want not" must be our maxim for a long time to come. Never again shall we be able to make wasteful use of materials, as we did in the past.

It is essential that the Government should mobilise public opinion to a realisation of the need for collecting salvage as a long-term policy. I cannot feel that the Government have done sufficient in this respect. There is at present a great propaganda programme designed to prevent people from being killed on the roads. While that is very desirable, is it not rather putting the cart before the horse? What is the good of having that elaborate publicity programme when we cannot even be sure that we shall be able to keep them alive if they escape death on the roads? Surely it is very important to have a salvage campaign to ensure that those people who escape death in accidents with mechanical vehicles on the roads shall have food and a livelihood afterwards. The Government have got this problem entirely out of focus, and the money now being spent on persuading people to avoid being knocked down on the roads ought to be spent on an active and vigorous salvage campaign.

There has been a serious fall in the amount of salvage collected. In 1942 we salvaged, in waste paper and board, about 420,000 tons; whereas in 1947 we salvaged only about 250,000 tons. That is a very serious fall, particularly having regard to the amount of paper issued for use by industry generally, which was greater in 1946 and 1947 than in 1942. We are getting nothing like the volume of paper salvage that we should get. While there is this fall in the volume of paper salvage collected, our newspapers are restricted in size and our board-making mills are working at less than capacity. This is a very vital factor. If we collected 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the paper wasted in the populated urban districts, our mills would not be able to deal with the volume which would come forward. That is a measure of the extent to which we are falling short in our present salvage activities.

Obviously, an essential part of the collection of waste falls upon local authorities. So far as the Government are concerned, the segregation of waste is important, but there are areas in which segregation is not taking place. In some cases local authorities are not taking the trouble, and in other cases there is creeping in the even worse tendency of local authority employees not to carry out their instructions. They are refusing to segregate the paper, as they are instructed to do, and they are often telling the housewives that it is no longer necessary to collect salvage. Many employees of local authorities are, in fact, sabotaging the campaign. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that we ought to look very carefully into this question, because the salvage of paper is so vital that nothing should stand in the way of getting the maximum amount of recovery.

We might also get some additional recovery from the destruction of documents. I am told that paper accumulates in legal offices in great masses, although I keep away from these offices as much as I can. If a determined drive were made by the Government to clear offices of unnecessary paper, I am sure that we should get a great deal of paper. It is absolutely essential, with the rising costs of paper and board from abroad, that we should get a higher percentage of recovery than the lamentably low figure of today. I understand that the amount of kitchen waste has gone down very materially. Bones are almost an impossible proposition—it is true that people say: "Give us the meat, and we will give you the bones." The present allocation of meat does not provide much of an opportunity for the collection of bones. The much larger quantity of filleted meat coming into the country, as compared with prewar days, also reduces the amount of bones which can be collected. Bones are a very profitable source of salvage, as they can provide many things, and we are falling down on their collection.

I wish now to say a word about the collection of bottles, but only in one respect, and that is so far as this affects the Ministry of Food. The collection of bottles has gone on pretty well during the last three or four years. On the whole, it has been fairly satisfactory, but the Ministry of Food are responsible for a good deal of the waste which is now going on. Every week the Ministry send out 8,000 gross of six-ounce medicine bottles. These bottles can be collected by the simple expedient of saying that in future, except for first applications for welfare foods, bottles must be returned before further supplies are given. The Ministry of Food, however, refuse to apply this sanction which it enforces on other people.

As a consequence of the Ministry refusing to adopt this very reasonable request, 4,000 gross of bottles are not being collected each week. There is no reason why the Ministry of Food should not be forced by the Board of Trade to salvage every one of their bottles by demanding that people shall return a bottle before they can get a fresh issue. I am sure that if we could go into the homes of people who are taking these welfare foods, we should find their cupboards stocked with bottles. These bottles could be used for essential national purposes, if the Ministry would only have the decency to apply the regulations they force upon other users.

Before I conclude, I wish to say a word about salvage in industry. I think that insufficient is being done in this respect. Salvage in industry ought to take two forms. There is far too much waste in industry today, largely because of the fact that we have a full employment policy. In the first place, we should reduce the amount of waste which occurs in this respect. People cannot enforce the rigid discipline of maximum utilisation of materials which they could in ordinary times. Many workers are less skilled than were workers before the war, and the result is that one is getting in British industry far too high a level of waste. The Department ought to do much more than it is doing to stop that. But even assuming we cannot do much there, in industry generally there are still large accumulations of waste material which could be collected. I am convinced that a national drive at the present time for scrap metal, particularly steel, would yield an enormous amount. All firms have things put by which they say they will use one day, but which they probably never will use. If a determined effort were made, I think we could get a much greater yield. What is needed is a live campaign to impress on people that this is not a temporary matter, that it is an essential part of our future existence as a nation, and that we have to have it as part of our everyday life.

We have to give local authorities more backing than they have had. It is no good the Board of Trade sending out directives to local authorities to collect salvage, when they have no vehicles to make the collection and they cannot get labour with which to do it. The savings of waste materials is vital to us, and the vehicles—they are only about 1,000 in number—which are necessary, and the men who are necessary, for this purpose ought to be provided as a priority. That is not being done now, and it certainly should be done. I suggest we should do something about the lagging local authorities. Many are not playing the game, even in relation to the facilities available to them, and we ought to have some means by which these people can be exposed. If we got the tempo of the salvage drive increased, that would tend to bring laggers into line; but the Minister ought to deal specifically with local authorities which refuse to do what they should do in their own interests and in the nation's interests.

Lastly, I feel that insufficient has been done to utilise voluntary services, like the W.V.S. and the Boy Scouts. I feel they would be happy to take a greater part in the salvage drive than they have hitherto been invited to take. If we do these things, I feel that we can materially increase the volume of salvage that is collected and to do that today is one of the most vital matters, because it would be a positive saving of materials which otherwise we have to import, with the use of foreign currency of which we are very short.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I will detain the House only for a very few minutes, so that the Minister may have time to reply. There are three big mills in my constituency, and I am most anxious that every possible step should be taken to increase the saving of paper. Secondly, I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the figures in the "Digest" showing that from June, 1939, to October, 1947, there has been an increase of no fewer than 11,700 persons engaged in the manufacture of bottles, and the facts which have been produced by my hon. Friend show that a great deal could be done to increase the salvage of bottles. I much regretted the attitude taken in this matter by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, and I was surprised that the order which made the salvage of bottles compulsory during the war was repealed, and has not been replaced.

I hope the President of the Board of Trade will set up a committee to go into the whole matter generally. It is a very difficult administrative problem. An immense amount is being done. An Italian invention was started in this country, called "Hyganic," which was successfully launched in the Royal Borough of Kensington, but during the war it had to be closed down. This is a matter of great importance at the present time, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will give it the attention it deserves.

10.35 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) for raising this subject tonight, for it gives me an opportunity of saying a few words about the need for salvage at a time when we are about to launch a new salvage drive in this country. I think he very clearly and fully stated the need for a salvage drive, and what he said was reinforced by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), with particular reference to the need of the paper mills, of which he has one or two in his Division. I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman also for the tribute he paid to the work that is being done, and to the officers in the Board of Trade and elsewhere who are doing this.

I would not disagree with him when he says that the main problem we have to face today is the psychology of the public and particularly the feeling that now that the war is over, the need for salvage has gone with the fighting. He will be the first to realise that publicity on this subject is a most difficult thing to organise. Perhaps of all kinds of publicity, propaganda for salvage drives is most subject to the law of diminishing returns. If you keep on pressing for increased work on salvage, the pressure tends to become much less attractive as you go on, and that is especially true, of course, if for one reason or another the public who are responding to that publicity are finding that their salvage is not being collected, either because the local authority in the area in which they are living is, perhaps, a little lax in this matter, or—what is more general—the local authority is perfectly willing to do all that it can, but is finding that, because of some of the shortages referred to by the hon. Gentleman, it cannot get round and collect the salvage as quickly or as often as is desirable.

But what the hon. Member said about the need for salvage, especially of paper, requires no underlining. The need for paper at the present time is as great as it ever was. The shortage has been intensified in recent weeks by the very serious drought in Sweden, which cut off a substantial proportion of our supplies of wood pulp at a most critical time. The paper situation is, of course, particularly serious in the matter of packing material. This afternoon I had to announce that there will be less supplies available for the wrapping of goods in the shops. I do not propose to control it by order. I do not propose to revive the war-time order forbidding the wrapping of goods; but I am appealing to the public and to the distributive trade to be extremely economical in the use of wrapping paper and to use it only where absolutely necessary.

We need a lot of paper and paper-board for the growing export drive, and this is where we are feeling the pinch most seriously. We need paper especially in the newsprint-using industry and for books, and, of course, while the salvage we shall get from this salvage drive cannot be used for newspaper purposes and printing, it can make possible a considerable saving in the pulp used for other purposes and thus enable us to use more of our resources for newsprint pulp. It can make a direct contribution to the various forms of paper and paper-board required for packing.

As the House knows, the brunt of the job of collecting paper—and I am dealing particularly with paper this evening—falls on the local authorities, but their work is supplemented by the work of the merchants. Some local authorities are very, very good. Some of them are, I am afraid, not so good. I have not myself heard of the cases referred to by the hon. Gentleman of action taken by the employees of local authorities actively to discourage salvage. I would not quarrel with his words if the facts are as he said they are, but I would like particulars of these cases to be furnished so that I can look into them. The war-time directions are still in force as far as local authorities are concerned, but the local authorities are under very great difficulties—

Mr. Molson

As regards paper?

Mr. Wilson

I am not talking about paper at the moment. I will come to it in a minute or two. The delay in the delivery of vehicles for this purpose is something like 18 months at the present time, but as part of the salvage drive I am giving consideration to this question to see whether something can be done to speed up the delivery of vehicles of this kind. Manpower is also a serious problem. The collecting staffs of local authorities at the present time are something like 25 per cent. below the prewar figure even though the need for collection is so much greater. At the same time, we should not depreciate the amount of work that has been done by the local authorities in this field in the last eight years. In fact, during that period the local authorities have collected two and quarter million tons of paper. They still account for one-third of the waste paper collection in this country, the merchants, of course, accounting for the remaining two-thirds. Taking the contributions of the local authorities and the merchants together, even in 1947, in spite of the difficulties to which reference has been made, the total amount collected was 645,000 tons. When one compares that with the highest wartime figure of 860,000 tons in 1942, one sees that the fall has not been so serious as perhaps might be generally thought. In fact, the 1947 total collection figure which I have given was considerably above the figure for 1945 and for certain wartime years.

I must agree with the hen. Member for The High Peak that the need for paper collection today is no less urgent than it was at the height of the war, and I would agree with him further when he says that the need for continuing intensified salvage measures will go on as long as we can see. We cannot afford to waste paper or any other form of material for a long time ahead or, indeed, ever again. Such decline as has occurred is due partly to the labour and transport difficulties, partly to the fact that we have not been having the same number of non-recurring drives such as the National Salvage Book Drive of the war years, and partly to the extent of public apathy on this question. Any estimates that I have seen prepared by those who are competent to judge on these matters shows that something between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of paper in the dust bins of this country have been wrongfully destroyed, and, then of course, there is the paper which is burned.

We are constantly stimulating local authorities in this matter. We are in direct touch with all local authorities and are constantly putting pressure on them. There are various means of doing it, by contacts, by departmental circulars, and so on. There are local salvage drives going on in many parts of the country and have been going on for some time. This week I am sending out a new and specially urgent appeal to local authorities to intensify their efforts and to leave nothing undone that can be done to collect the salvage we are asking the public to put out. As part of that campaign we are hoping to be able to guarantee the local authorities the maintenance of the present prices so far as 1950, which will be an important thing for them and will enable them to make long-term plans. A committee has been set up representative of the newspapers, the periodicals and the Paper Makers' Association. This committee is working in close co-operation with the Board of Trade and formulating publicity on a national scale. Newspapers have pledged their full assistance in this matter, and they know that in so doing, not only are they performing a patriotic duty, but are also helping themselves.

Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)

Could my right hon. Friend say whether on that committee there will be anyone representative of the film industry?

Mr. Wilson

That committee is dealing mainly with paper-using and paper-making industries. My own Department is in close touch with the film industry, and is hoping to make the fullest use of films, broadcasting, and, in fact, of every weapon in the modern publicist's armoury. I understand that the main item which this committee—which is as I have said, a private committee—will take up is a national competition between local authorities, with money prizes. That committee and my Department are also arranging for increased local publicity particularly in the local newspapers, which, I think, can do far more in this even than the national Press, to stimulate the more laggard local authorities to do their work.

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

Can my right hon. Friend say what action he proposes to take in the case of a local authority such as that of which I sent particulars to him ten days ago, which would not take part in a salvage drive, saying that it was a waste of time, effort and money?

Mr. Wilson

I think that I ought to look further into the case before I answer that question; but I must say that the nation cannot afford that kind of attitude. We are appealing to local authorities to make the fullest use of all methods of collection which are available, including, of course, the merchants. It is hoped that the local authorities will make full use of youth clubs, scouts, guides and other local organisations, and that they will not be "sticky" about the methods used to encourage these organisations. I know that if, when I was a boy, I had been engaged in this kind of thing and we had been told that money would be available for the camping fund as a result of anything we did, I am quite sure that there would have been no salvage problem in the part of Yorkshire where I lived. In fact, there would probably have been nothing left for the local authority to collect.

We cannot organise in detail all these efforts from a national Department. We must leave some part of it to local authority enterprise. An hon. Member has called for a good clear out of documents, and I would emphasise in that respect that Whitehall will set an example to the country. We are going to have another drive in Whitehall to get as much spare paper as can be made available for this salvage drive, and I think this is the proper time, a little while after the end of the war, to clear out some of the war-time paper which is no longer required. I would go even further, and appeal to all offices to do what they can to make available paper which must have accumulated since the last drive of this kind.

Reference has also been made to bottles. There are difficulties in regard to bottles. I agree with the remarks about the urgent need for bottles. We are so short of soda ash that we cannot go on making it available to the extent that we are doing now. I would like too, to see more bottles and cullet collected. There are difficulties in the case of pharmaceutical products in requiring bottles to be returned when fresh supplies are wanted. Where machinery is used it is often not possible to use secondhand bottles. Regarding the case about the Ministry of Food, I will take that matter up with my right hon. Friend and see what can be done. With regard to industry, I agree that there is need for the collection of scrap metal. The Iron and Steel Board is arranging for the collection of ferrous scrap. There is a great need there, and I agree that there is a great deal which can be collected.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Ten Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.