HC Deb 22 November 1948 vol 458 cc869-71
68. Mr. John E. Haire

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is now in a position to announce a relaxation of controls affecting the furniture industry.

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

Yes, Sir. I propose to revoke the present statutory control over the manufacture and supply of furniture, and at the same time to make certain modifications in the utility furniture scheme. The necessary order has been made and will come into operation on 29th November.

Under the new scheme, manufacturers will still need a licence to apply the utility mark to furniture, and will be permitted to apply the mark only to furniture made in conformity with general specifications of quality and construction issued by the Board of Trade. These specifications are intended to maintain the standard of quality of utility furniture, but will give manufacturers freedom to make it to their own designs, and by the methods which they can most efficiently employ.

These changes do not affect the controls over acquisition and consumption of timber or steel for furniture.

Maximum prices for the various groups of new utility furniture will be fixed in a separate order which will be made shortly. Each group of articles will have its own maximum price but the highest prices will not, except in a few cases, exceed the highest now chargeable. In many instances they will be slightly lower.

As part of the new scheme, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a Treasury order reducing the rate of Purchase Tax on non-utility furniture now charged at 66⅔ per cent. to 33⅓ per cent. as from 29th November.

Mr. Haire

While I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which will give very great satisfaction, particularly to the manufacturers of non-utility furniture, may I ask him to assure us that he will retain sufficient controls to guarantee that the interests of the consumers will be uppermost at all times?

Mr. Wilson

We have had that matter very much in mind and I can assure my hon. Friend that, while giving freedom of design, we shall maintain the standard of quality and reliability of utility furniture.

Major Guy Lloyd

In view of the innumerable occasions on which hon. Members on this side of the House have advocated the relaxation of controls, does the right hon. Gentleman realise how grateful we are that for once he has taken our advice?

Mr. Wilson

In view of the large number of times on which we have announced relaxations of controls when they have been possible, I would like to remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we are still awaiting the long-promised advice from the other side on which controls to take off next.

Mr. Thurtle

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that he has a sufficient number of inspectors to ensure that the specifications are properly carried out?

Mr. Wilson

I think the main control on this must come from the consumers themselves. We are providing in the new scheme a code number which will be applied to the furniture so that the maker can be identified, and I hope the consumers will give us all the help they can.

Mr. Geoffrey Cooper

Can my right hon. Friend say whether his Department are encouraging furniture manufacturers to use some of the lesser known Empire timbers which are in plentiful supply as distinct from the more popularly known, such as oak and mahogany?

Mr. Wilson

That is being done, and many new kinds of timber are now being used.