HC Deb 29 January 1951 vol 483 cc545-7
1. Mr. John Hynd

asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware of the concern that is arising through the increasing difficulty of obtaining steel sheets and, particularly, steel sheets and flanging quality steel, for both export and essential home trade; and, whether he will make a statement.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. G. R. Strauss)

There has been a persistent shortage of steel sheets, particularly of pressing quality, since the end of the war. No improvement is likely until the new plant in South Wales comes into operation later this year. Production from this plant will also increase supplies of flanging quality plate and strip.

Mr. Hynd

Will the Minister consult with his right hon. Friends the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Fuel and Power to ascertain how serious the position is, particularly in connection with the production of railway wagons? Can he give the House an indication of emergency steps that could be taken to alleviate the position?

Mr. Strauss

I am well aware of the difficulties which this shortage has caused in many sections of industry, but there is nothing more that can be done about it until the Margam works comes into operation.

Mr. Peter Roberts

Has there been any export of this type of steel in the last six months?

Mr. Strauss

Maybe of some types under which we are bound by bilateral trade agreements, but not otherwise.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Has my right hon. Friend examined the extent to which hoarding has taken place in the last few months. That might provide some solution.

Mr. Strauss

It may be that there are some stocks held by firms, but there are so many of them that it would be very difficult to take any action.

Mr. David Eccles

To what extent is the Minister responsible for the distribution of such steel as there is at present?

Mr. Strauss

We continue to allot sheet steel, but only sheet steel.

32. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Supply what is his estimate of the short-fall in American shipments of sheet steel to this country during the present quarter.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Orders for 29,000 tons are outstanding on mills in the U.S.A., of which 21,000 tons were due for delivery in 1950, the remaining 8,000 tons having been ordered at various dates for delivery in the first quarter of 1951. So far this quarter 1,000 tons have arrived in the United Kingdom and about 3,000 tons are in transit, but it is impossible to estimate what the total arrivals this quarter will be.

Mr. Edelman

In view of the statement of his Department that these contracts will not be completed, would my right hon. Friend say what representations have been made to suppliers to carry out these contracts? If they plead force majeure will he say what representations he made to the United States Government?

Mr. Strauss

The firms who have taken on these contracts, have, of course, been asked to make delivery, but they say that in view of the pressure on them for delivery in other quarters, particularly for defence orders, they cannot guarantee when they will be able to deliver the metal.

Mr. Edelman

Since my right hon. Friend has already stated that there were no dates made in the contracts for metal, is it not the case that a contract cannot be considered a contract unless a date is, in fact, given?

Mr. Strauss

A date is given in these contracts, but there is no binding obligation to deliver by that date. That is the normal form of contract for metal which is ordered by British producers of iron and steel, but there is no binding obligation on firms to deliver by a specific date.

Mr. Edelman

In view of the incomplete answer of my right hon. Friend I wish to give notice that I will raise the matter at the earliest possible moment.