HC Deb 05 July 1951 vol 489 cc2627-59

10.8 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 11th May, 1951, entitled the Plasterboard (Prices) (No. 1) Order, 1951 (S.1. 1951, No. 864), a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th May, be annulled. I would venture to suggest that it may be for the convenience of the House if the two other Prayers which are on the Order Paper, dealing with Building Plasters and Gypsum Rock, might be discussed together.

Mr. Speaker

That seems to me to be most convenient, as I gather that they all cover, more or less, the same subject.

Mr. Pickthorn

Yes; thank you, Sir.

I may begin, perhaps, with a small point, so that those hon. Members who have informed themselves on this matter through the newspapers and other similar ways may be brought quite up-to-date; that is to say, there has been within the last few days quite recently, a decision that the price of plasterboard shall be very slightly raised above what it was when these Prayers were put down. That rise in price does not improve the effective price for plasterboard, which is the material principally concerned. The rise in paper has been so much that the recent rise—this last penny—leaves plasterboard really a farthing a square yard or foot, whatever it is, worse off than it was before, so it makes very little difference there.

On the other point, that is, the point of discrimination, the giving of different prices for plasterboard as between one group of producers and other producers, on that side of the matter—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will bear me out it is not in the least affected by this additional rise. But since the additional rise might have been adduced in argument later, I thought it perhaps wise to clear that out of the way first. Perhaps I may add this, in that connection, that the Order was made on 11th May to come into effect on 21st, and it really is a bit of a comment on the claims made for control, planning, and price fixing, and all that, that early in June the Minister of Works had to promise another penny to meet what ought to have been a perfectly calculable rise in the cost of paper which is one of the raw materials of this production, and he had, of course, been pressed about that before.

But, as I say, the importance of this matter is simply that on the straight price the manufacturers are left now still about a farthing worse off than they would have been if the penny had not been put on, and on the differential, that remains what it was. That brings me to the three questions which I will endeavour to keep as short and as simple as I can. I think, again, the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that there are three questions into which this matter can be divided. First of all, ought there to be control and fixing of prices in this matter? I propose to say almost nothing about that, and I hope the debate will not mainly turn upon it.

Secondly, and obviously of the greatest immediate practical importance to the persons concerned, is the price as now fixed for the British Plasterboard Group the right price, or is it too low? I ask the House to believe that I do not think that the most important part of the debate either. The third question into which the general question can be divided is the one which seems to me much the most important and on which it seems to me plain that these Orders ought to be prayed against. That is the question whether the power of price fixing ought to be used to fix a lower price for one producer of something or other, whatever it may be, than for other producers of the same product.

It may be that in the course of my argument I shall spend more time on the second point, but I will return to the third point in the end, which is the one which seems to me to be the most important. It perhaps needs less arguing than the others because it is obvious on the face of it, whether one takes the view that discrimination is good or bad, that there is discrimination; and I should have thought everyone would agree it is obvious there ought to be a presumption against discrimination in these matters, a presumption which it is the duty of the Minister to rebut: though I should have thought it irrebuttable.

On the first point—ought there to be control?—I think the Minister is under some duty to tell the House why there ought to be control, and this particular control under these statutes. I am not trying to argue that this is ultra vires or anything of that sort, but anybody who reads the two statutes—the Supplies and Services Acts of 1945 and 1947—will, I think, find it difficult to bring this particular product under any of the specific purposes for which the Executive was given this power. I think it can only be done by a very generalised argument and I think there is a presumption there which really ought to be rebutted before this Order becomes permanent. That is on the first point.

The second point is: Is this price as now fixed, whether or not there ought to be any fixing, sufficient? On this I would like if I may to begin with a general kind of confession of faith in this matter. I am not going to try—[Interruption.] I do not know if the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) wants to say something, but if he does not want to say something he would meet his wishes and mine by not speaking. It is not the choice of the industry nor is it in the main the choice of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House that Government controls and directions and especially price fixing, form now so large a part of the factors to be taken into account by those managing production. For good or for bad that is so. It is not their fault.

But once that is the situation, Members of Parliament must have a right and indeed a duty on occasion to espouse, so to speak, the case of the producers concerned and to advocate their view of what the price ought to be, or at least to advocate their argument against the price as fixed. It must be right for us to do that upon occasion, and if I am not going to do that now at all elaborately that is partly from a sense of incompetence; it is partly to save time; and it is mainly because I think my third point decisive anyway, and it is not in the least because I, and I think I may be bold enough to say anybody on this side of the House, doubts that when the Government has to fix a price we can properly argue that that price is not enough. We are entirely in our rights so to argue, either in the interests of the persons managing the industry concerned or, for that matter, and the two things are not separable, in the interests of those persons employed in the industry; and it happens that this group employs a considerable number of men in my constituency.

I do not want to argue whether or not these are the right prices at any length or with any elaboration. I only want to indicate what seem to me some of the questions on that point which ought to be fully understood and upon which there ought to be quite clear and quite unanswerable decisions before it can be decided these Orders ought to stand.

One small point is, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not use the argument which has been used in some of the party organs about bonus shares. What I am assured is that the issued capital, including any bonus shares issued, amount to £3 million, that the actual cash and cash equivalent—and I will define my use of that word in a minute—amount to about £9 million, that the replacement value of the physical capital is about £14 million; and that of these two last figures, £9 million and £14 million, in each case rather more than two-thirds of the capital is applicable to the products which we are now discussing; and again I think the right hon. Gentleman will probably agree that my figures, at any rate I hope they are. are right.

The Ministry alleges that its price is fixed to produce 15 per cent. on capital, but not on capital in the sense in which I have just used it. When I said "cash equivalent" just now, by that I meant that where assets have been bought with shares, they are taking the value of those shares at the cash for which they could have been sold on the Stock Exchange on that date. That is the price which has often been used by the Government in nationalisation and other Measures, and I do not think there can be any complaint of that.

But the Ministry definition of capital for this purpose is quite different. Their 15 per cent. is 15 per cent. gross, including tax, including what they call "some replacement"—I do not know what proportion of necessary replacements they may mean by "some"—and upon capital in this sense: in the sense of the original cash cost of the physical assets, the original cash cost not necessarily or even mostly to the present firm but to the people who originally bought it—upon that original cost minus any writing down that has been done since.

The British Plasterboard Group argue —and I do not go bail for this, though I am reasonably sure it is right; it has been most carefully done by independent accountants, and so on—that so far from the price fixed giving them 15 per cent. of their capital in the sense which I indicated, it gives them only 2.2 per cent. Of this £3 million of issued capital for which the British Plasterboard Group have the responsibility to provide adequate remuneration by way of dividends, the last £1 million was subscribed by the public in July, 1946, to meet the Ministry of Works desire that there should be expansion, on the authority of the Treasury advised by the Capital Issues Committee, at a price of 30s. which was the minimum price recommended by the Capital Issues Committee and the Treasury.

Incidentally, that minimum price, I think, certainly validates, if there should be any argument, my use of the expression — cash equivalent "three or four minutes ago. This £1 million was sought by the Group on Government advice, with Government authority, on terms suggested by the Government, was got from the public —13,000 of them, mostly existing shareholders—and although transfers to reserves have been small, those shareholders have been paid only a little over 4 per cent. since the raising of that money.

I do not want fully to argue this part 'of the case. I say that that case, if it is anything like fair—and I have taken what trouble I could to make sure that it is fair—does make it look very unlikely that this price is the right price. It makes it very difficult to see how this Group, for instance, could be expected to raise new money in the future. For example, they have, I believe, a project for providing anhydride, and one of the things which people not excessively engaged in party politics have been saying lately is that one, at least, of the reasons for shortage of raw materials has been price fixing. Here is a case. Everybody wants sulphur; therefore, they want anhydride. That is the second point of the argument, that the price is not sufficient to enable these people to give due remuneration to their shareholders and to maintain and renew their physical capital as it should be maintained and renewed. I hope that I have put those first two points fairly.

Now I will put the third point very shortly, although, as I have already said twice, I think it much the most important. That is to say, even admitting for the sake of argument that there ought to be controls of the prices of this product, admitting for the sake of argument that the price fixed for these three Instruments are exactly the right prices, admitting those things merely for the sake of argument, yet it seems to me that there is a very strong presumption—indeed, I should have thought an irrebuttable presumption— against the propriety of using delegated legislation to say to two producers of what are almost indistinguishable products that they may charge different maximum prices for those products. I believe the British Plasterboard Group think that their product is slightly superior to anybody else's. That is not an unusual kind of prejudice. I do not think that either their competitors or any impartial user suggests that the products of their competitors are very much the better. I think we may take the products for our purposes as being equivalent.

My main argument is that to use delegated legislation for two effectively equivalent products, in order to allow one producer to charge a maximum less than you allow another producer to charge, was not in the intention of either of the Statutes and was not contemplated by Parliament at the time of their passing; is contrary to all usage and to every day equity and ought to be reversed. That seems to me really to be the strong case, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not retire behind the Palmer Committee, because it seems to me that the Palmer Committee can advise on the prices really only upon the principles that have been adopted in the fixing inside this industry since it started upon a voluntary basis—and it is not admitted that those principles are necessarily the right ones.

I do not think that the Palmer Committee really provides him with an argument against my second point, but I am quite certain that the Palmer Committee does not provide any kind of shield against my third point—that this discrimination point is not a matter which is any business for the Palmer Committee to decide or to report upon. Nor can it be argued that by fixing discriminatory prices, even if that were admitted ever to be right, we are doing something to avoid monopoly; indeed, I think quite the contrary. We are making monopoly more likely.

The Government themselves quite recently were still thinking that the customer would always go to whoever produced the stuff cheaper, and if that were to happen we might well see the smaller concerns pushed out of business or at least pressed very hard. There is ample productive capacity in this industry. There have been two small concerns pushed out of business fairly recently, and that argument in favour of discrimination therefore—that this is the only possible alternative to monopoly—will not bite. I think I have made plain what seem to me to be the three reasons why these Orders should not remain valid, and I hope I have made plain why I think the third the most important of the three.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to second the Motion.

My main objection to these three Statutory Instruments is that they are designed to impose maximum prices for gypsum, plaster and plaster board produced by one group of companies—namely, the British Plasterboard Group—while other competitive companies are left free from controls. I hasten to say that I have no financial interest and no other interest in the British Plaster Board Company and that the only reason my hon. Friends and I have raised this matter tonight is because we think the procedure which has been adopted by the Government is unfair, is un-British and is a most improper use of the powers of delegated legislation.

I do not want to go into technical details this evening, but I understand that the Government's action has arisen because of the breakdown of a voluntary —I repeat, voluntary— agreement by which producers undertook not to increase prices without the Minister's consent. In recent months there have been discussions between the Plasterboard Group and the Government about the rising costs of coal, fuel, transport, paper and so on. Every manufacturer in this country has been faced with rising prices and it is only reasonable that the Plasterboard Group should discuss these matters with the Government.

The talks between the Government and the Group ended in a deadlock and the Group decided that they could only withdraw from the voluntary agreement. But producers other than the Plasterboard Group have been permitted by the Government to incease their selling prices by a higher margin than the maximum which is laid down in these orders as the margin permitted to the Plasterboard Group, on, the ground that their manufacturing costs were higher than those of the Plasterboard Group. Therefore, we find that the most efficient producers of plasterboards are penalised because they are the most efficient, and the Government decide to introduce an order giving them a lower selling price than any of their competitors.

Another point I should like to emphasise is that the Plasterboard Group have been forced by the Ministry of Works to value their assets below replacement value in their balance sheet and these fictitiously low figures have been used by the Ministry in their calculations in fixing prices for the Group's products. Any business man knows that replacement values are very much higher today than before the war and any prudent business man is going to provide for replacement of his assets at their present replacement values.

Lastly, there is one point which should not be overlooked. By producing orders such as this—which I do not believe were anticipated when the power to make them was placed on the Statute Book—the Government can create a fictitious market in the shares of companies. They only have to produce an order reducing the maximum selling price allowed to certain companies and down go the shares; then later, they may produce an order increasing the permitted selling price and immediately up go the shares again. They are creating a gamblers' paradise. No company likes to have its shares fluctuating as the result of Government orders. This is an immoral Order and we should hear from the Government tonight that they intend to withdraw it.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

I intervene briefly because I have an interest in this question, not a financial interest, but the concern of my constituents, which is a very important interest for a hon. Member of this House. I entirely support what my hon. Friends have said about the extraordinary constitutional principles involved, by which the Minister now picks and chooses between competitive firms with regard to the maximum prices they may be allowed to charge for their products.

These Orders may work very harshly upon approximately 100 men—and their families—who are employed by Thomas McGhie and Sons, Ltd., who work in North Westmorland. This is a small firm; I think it could be said that it is an efficient firm, with good equipment. I have no technical knowledge, but I have visited the firm, and that is the impression I gained, and which I think other hon. Members would gain from a visit. It seems to me very hard that the prospects of these men should be jeopardised simply because, as it seems to me, of some dispute between the Minister of Works and those who direct the policy of their company.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, why is the firm of Thomas McGhie and Sons, Limited, included in the Schedule to this Order; second, has this firm or those responsible for its policy withdrawn from the voluntary agreement covering gypsum rock? I think these two questions are clear and fair. These are not small points. In a scattered and remote district, variety of employment is always a great asset. It is not easy to develop, and when it is there it is as good a foundation for the prosperity of the district as one could have.

In the Pennines, there is a deposit of gypsum rock which is remote from big centres of population, and, therefore, remote from centres of consumption. Hence, the cost of transport for that bulky raw material from the place of mining to the place of final consumption must be high. That leaves very little margin. Margin is important when a small firm is in competition with companies like the Imperial Chemical Industries, as this firm is. If it were to become unprofitable to continue to mine and manufacture gypsum products in this area, or any area under the group's control, it is possible that this firm would be one of those whose operations would be limited, if not brought to an end.

Therefore, the action of the Minister is, without doubt, damaging to the prospects not only of the company, but also to the prospects of those employed by it, and of their families. There is little alternative employment in this area, and for the skilled men in these works there is virtually none which is worthy of their experience and their skill. I ask the Minister to reconsider the harsh reactions to this policy which are bound to occur if he persists in this extraordinary method of distinguishing in this way between one firm and another.

10.39 p.m.

Mr. Crosland (Gloucestershire, South)

I only want to intervene briefly, because the speeches of hon. Members opposite have not set this important matter in perspective. This is a Prayer against action which patently is intended to reduce the cost of living in general, and of housing in particular. That has not emerged from the speeches of hon. Members opposite. The basic facts, as I understand it, are not challenged. The British Plasterboard Group, the largest producer in this industry, is also the lowest cost producer. In this situation, what is the correct policy for the Government, if it is going to operate a price control system?

Assuming that the Government does not do what is being prayed against, it has two alternatives only. It can set a uniform price so high that it covers the costs of the high cost producer, in which case it will lead to an enormous level of profit for the low cost producer, which is, presumably, not what hon. Members opposite want; or else the Government can set the price low enough to give only reasonable profit to the low cost producers and thus drive the high cost producers out of business. It would be interesting to know which of these alternatives hon. Members opposite want the Government to put into practice. So far we have had no answer from them on that point.

No one can say that the profits of the British Plaster Board Company at the moment are such that the directors, the shareholders, or others are hearing the baying of the wolf at their door. In 1951 their profits—the group trading profits were well over £1 million: a little lower than in 1950, but in 1950 the profits were four times what they were in 1946. Not an insignificant increase in four years! They declared a 16⅔ per cent. dividend, and one interesting fact which was not mentioned by the hon. Gentleman was that their interim dividend was raised, although admittedly the final dividend was the same as last year. There has been no slump in prices of their shares on the Stock Exchange; in fact, they are standing slightly higher than they stood on 1st January. That is, five months before this Order was made.

Mr. Pickthorn

The hon. Gentleman should, in fairness, say that they are below the 30 shillings at which they were made.

Mr. Crosland

But since then, there has been a bonus issue of 50 per cent. so that, of course, the nominal value of the shares is down by a corresponding amount. And the shares have not slumped since the beginning of the year, which suggests that the Stock Exchange takes a less alarmist view of the Group's profit expectations than did the hon. Member for Carlton.

I revert to my main point. If hon. Members opposite do not like this price discrimination, which of the two other possible policies do they want—a uniformly high price which would allow fantastic profits to British Plaster Board, or a uniformly low price which would drive 'the high cost producer out of business?

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)

I hope that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) will go to the Trades Union Congress this year and enunciate the principle which he has enunciated tonight. We are dealing here with a principle which strikes at the very heart of trade union agreements. Let me make it perfectly clear that I have not the slightest financial interest in plasterboard and, in fact, in so far as I have any business interests at all, I consider them as competitors in plasterboard. But what we are concerned with tonight is what is a fair and reasonable price when all things are taken into account.

The hon. Member is in favour of penalising the British Plasterboard because they are a low cost producer. If they decided to be thoroughly inefficient and thereby made a smaller profit, or no profit at all, the hon. Member would come along and say, "All right, raise the price." Let him go to the Trades Union Congress and enunciate that principle, because if that principle is to apply to a firm selling goods, then it should apply before long to a worker selling his labour. One will then turn round and say," Here is a man who is more efficient than that man; therefore, he shall get a lower rate; he is a better worker, and he shall not be paid a higher rate. The other man took home far too much last Friday night, and we will cut it down."

That is the principle at stake tonight. One is asked to turn to an efficient producer and say that, because he is an efficient producer, we shall differentiate between that person and another. I hope that other hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have enough imagination to see where we are getting, would, above all, have nothing to do with that principle, because if that principle can be applied to a seller of a product it can equally be applied to a seller of labour.

Mr. Crosland

Why the hon. Gentleman should think that there is an analogy between labour and capital in a matter of this sort is beyond belief. There is no reason for saying there is an analogy of the kind. But if he objects to this kind of discrimination, which of the two alternatives I have outlined would he pursue?

Mr. Gammans

Of course there is an analogy between the two. If I have heard it from the Labour benches once I have heard it said fifty times that all a man has to sell is his labour. This selling of labour is in exactly the same category as the selling of a product. That surely is the proper principle, with a price fixed on what is reasonable and fair, taking into consideration all the factors involved.

If we set out deliberately to penalise efficiency, one thing is certain, and that is we shall get inefficiency. There will be every inducement for a company not to be efficient and not to be competitive, as we all want to be. Let it get about that the slogan is, "Put up your costs and you will get higher prices allowed," and one will get what the hon. Member appeared to say. He told the plasterboard people so to mismanage their affairs in this coming year as to say, "We have made no profit at all." He says, "Come along, like the Railways, and say we have made a loss; shove up the prices to the consumers." No one is prepared to say that. One of the problems which faces us today in this country is to persuade the first-rank industrialists to put forward their best efforts with taxation what it is. We are making that problem worse by what we are doing tonight.

A close friend of mine built up a big business almost from nothing after the First World War. The other day he told me that he reckoned he worked for himself on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 11.20 a.m. and for the rest of the week he worked for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How long will that go on? Will his son and the next generation be prepared to do that? What has carried this man on is his pride in his work, something one will not get in the next generation. If one says to him, "We are going to penalise your business which you have built up and in which you took pride because you are efficient," then where shall we be in regard to the whole of the industrial life of this country?

The second thing that will certainly happen is that we shall get no more capital. What is the point of investing capital in a concern if one is going to treat it in this way? If the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South, gets up and says that Great Britain needs no more capital and that we do not need to modernïse industry, well and good. The argument is at least logical. It comes from this talk about high profits. It is an election stunt which is being worked out. We should be agreed upon the fact that high profits which are due to a monopoly are a thoroughly bad thing. Our grievance on this side of the House is that the Government has not had the courage to tackle high profits which come from that source.

Mr. Speaker

We are discussing plasterboard, and we are not on the general subject of high profits.

Mr. Gammans

I do think that what is behind this is this attitude the Government has about this particular issue. I hope the Minister will take a reasonable attitude in this matter. I think it is a very serious—almost a constitutional question, and certainly a great industrial question, when a Minister of the Crown comes to this House and says he is going to penalise a man or an industry because it is efficient, because it has a large turnover. Because, believe me, if ever we get to the stage when we are going to penalise industry because it is efficient, it will not be very long before we penalise individuals because they are efficient.

10.51 p.m.

The Minister of Works (Mr. George Brown)

I think it might, perhaps, be convenient if I intervened at this stage. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) expressed the hope that I would take a reasonable attitude. I have been doing that all the way through. There have been very many wild statements about dictatorship and bullying, and tonight we have had an allegation that we have been "un-British." It is no use Members who talk like that talking to me about taking a reasonable attitude.

The hon. Gentleman said a good deal about penalising the company for its efficiency. He went on to say if we did that, it was an obvious road out for the industry to become inefficient and get higher prices. We are not quite so simple as that, and I shall hope to show there is no element of penalising in this matter at all. The company, on the prices that I thought, and still think, reasonable, still get a higher return both on their costs of production, which are not disputed, and on their capital than most, I think, all others in this field. That is because it contains an allowance for their efficiency. If, in fact, the company were to set out to become inefficient, clearly the allowance I now make in the present prices for their efficiency would no longer be justified, and would have to go. That is the way in which a company that thought it was rather clever to do that, would get caught.

Mr. Gammans

From what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, do I understand that if, at the end of the year, the company were to give him proof that they had incurred a loss, then he would consider more favourably raising their prices?

Mr. Brown

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would let me go through my case, as I have let others go through theirs.

When hon. Members are talking about this company being so efficient and others being inefficient what is the implication? If the others have higher prices is it not inferred that they are inefficient?

The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) made a reasonable speech. What was the point of the remark he made that if they were inefficient, they would get higher prices? It must contain the implication that the others are inefficient. [An. HON. MEMBER: "Un-British."] Let the hon. Member who talks about being "un-British "be quiet. The point that has to be borne in mind is that this company has 75 per cent. of the total market, and its competitors have about 13 per cent. It has a vastly greater turn-over, and unless our ideas are all wrong, it must follow that it therefore has a natural advantage it happens to have over its competitors. It must follow that with that vastly greater turnover it should be able to do the job at a slightly lower cost per unit of production. Otherwise, there is no point in the increased turnover.

Mr. Pickthorn


Mr. Brown

It is very difficult in these circumstances to reply to the debate.

Mr. Pickthorn

This kind of debate is largely conducted by question and answer. I always give way. Surely the right hon. Gentleman will admit that "happens" is unfair, since they developed and made the whole market for this product, which does help housing.

Mr. Brown

That seems a very small point. It would be helpful if hon. Members would listen to the argument. By the use of the phrase "happens to have" I was not seeking to reflect on the company, but it so happens, apart from their size and amalgamations, that they are not in the same position with regard to acquiring their raw material as is their competitor, to whom I have allowed a higher price. They have an advantage others have not got, and when one is talking about "penalising for efficiency "one ought to take all that into account.

The argument that it is wrong to have this differential seems strange to a Government which is being continually attacked by the same people on opposite grounds. Before I came to this Department I was privileged to be associated with the Ministry of Agriculture. How many times have we had the argument such as was put forward in the "Economist" of 26th May—when they attacked this particular Order. Speaking of successful farmers, it said: It is certain that a system which presents a large number of successful farmers with windfall profits in the interests of prodding the less fortunate or efficient ones into activity will not be tolerated indefinitely by the consuming public. It is odd that a Government which so much dislikes the price mechanism should cling to it in one of its most wasteful manifestations. That is a view of which we have heard a lot. In this Order I am doing the very thing I am adjured to do in the "Economist"—not giving some people a windfall profit in order to take care of the less efficient. A lot has been said about making the Order at all. Those who are aware of the position—as is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton)—know perfectly well I was as reluctant as anyone to make the Order. I sought every possible way of not making it.

The Order arose in this way. The company gave notice on 28th March in the case of plasterboard, and 3rd April in regard to plaster, that they were withdrawing from the voluntary price agreement. Negotiations went on, and I came to this office in the middle of them. I had immediately to go into this. I discussed it, and I asked the managing director of the company and the chairman to come and see me.

I put it to them that I did not want to have to make a decision in a case like this quite so soon—that there was nothing that had changed—that the computation of their capital was exactly the same as it had been for some years—that the only thing I had changed was that I was allowing the competitor to charge more—and I would prefer, as there was a standing advisory committee on the matter, to call it in, submit the thing to them, and to make my decision in the light of their advice.

The company were already charging higher prices. I said that I would allow them to charge those prices for a further week, until they could get a board meeting, provided they would be willing to recommend to the board that they should resume the voluntary agreement until the Palmer Committee reported. I said that I would join with them in taking every step to get a speedy report from the committee. I thought at the time that the managing director and the chairman of the company thought there was something in that. I was told on the telephone the next day that they were not able to recommend that, that all they would recommend was not to have another price increase during the next month. I said that that was no offer at all.

It was because they were not prepared to continue the voluntary agreement that had gone on for some years until we got a report from the committee that I was forced to make the Order. The Order would not have been before the House at all if that had not been so. I assure the House that that is exactly how it came about, as everybody knows who had anything to do with it.

If I had not made the Order it would have meant that in an industry which was price controlled because of its importance—it affects housing, textiles, agriculture, and other highly important industries—I would have stepped out of the field at the bidding of a large group in the industry and allowed them to decide what the price was to be. How could that be done for plasterboard and not over all the range of other materials? It virtually meant the end of price control. It is up to hon. Gentlemen to argue that we ought not to have price control. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey took the view that by controlling prices in this way we were penalising efficiency.

Mr. Gammans

I said nothing of the sort. I said that when there was a differential price there was penalisation of efficiency.

Mr. Brown

That is how it works in this case. It applies the differential. One could argue that, but I hope the constituents of Carlton—and my own—will appreciate that that is the argument hon. Members are putting up.

I took the opposite point of view. I said that if the company were taking that line I could not allow them to become the price-fixing authority; therefore, I must move to hold the position temporarily until I got the advice of the committee which has dealt with this sort of thing over a period of years. I have fixed the position, admittedly at what 1 thought to be the right figure, but only until we get some advice from the committee and can look at it again. Whether there is to be a continuing order will then depend on the decision of the company.

I should be happy to get back to the voluntary price control here as for other building materials, and as I have recently been told by other members of the Building Producers' Council they prefer. But if they continue to increase prices there will have to be a continuing order if I am to do the job as I think it ought to be done. On the question whether the price is fair, I believe it is. Hon. Members may believe it is not. We shall have the report of the Palmer Committee, and we shall then all be in a much stronger position. The price they wanted to have allowed them in the case of plasterboard was 15.8 per cent. on the cost of production. With plaster and gypsum it would have allowed them 19 per cent. on the cost of production. This does not bring in the disputed figure of the capital computation. That is not peculiar to this industry: it is an issue which covers the whole field of industry and which the F.B.I. have been discussing separately.

I am not discussing that now. I am dealing with the question of the cost of production, about which there is no dispute at all. I will not go into the argument about the figures as to capital, whether it is £9 million or £14 million, because when the report comes to me I shall have to act. I do not wish it to be thought that I have a prejudiced mind or a closed mind on the subject, so it would be better, despite some unfair and inaccurate arguments, if I did not enter into the argument tonight.

I come to the question of the differential, which has been described as the most important point. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) put his finger on the point. If one takes the view that there is to be price control, and one has an industry in which one firm has 13 per cent. of the output, one firm has 75 per cent., one firm has its source of materials under its own control, and one has to acquire its materials from a much more expensive source, one is faced with the position that to give the small man enough to keep him going, if the same price is to be allowed all round, the big man will be given a price which will provide him with an unreasonable return upon his costs and his capital. Alternatively, if we have one price, he can be given a price which is fair and the small man will be left to get along as best he can or go to the wall.

For reasons which I would be prepared to debate at length, I took the view that in the nature of this industry it ought not to be my action which put the small man out of business. It may well be that market conditions would do that if it were a free market—I do not know; I would hope not—but it ought not to be my action which did it. If I gave the industry a price which was justified on the big man's cost of production, it would have that effect. Even on the differential price the small man is barely making a profit as it is. He is just keeping going. [An HON. MEMBER: "The LCI"] No, it is not the I.C.I. It is Plaster Products, at Greenhithe, which is a different company. I am not concerned with I.C.I., because they are not germane to the argument at all. Since I was not prepared, off my own bat, to justify an extravagant return, and I was not prepared to put the small man out of business, I took the line that I ought to have a differential and make sure they both stayed in business.

Mr. Duncan Sandys (Streatham)

The right hon. Gentleman said that very likely if there had been no price control and there had been a free market, the small firm would have been driven out of business. I am not discussing whether that is right or wrong, but it means, in effect, that the price of plasterboard might have been lower if there were no price control at all.

Mr. Brown

No. With respect, I think the lateness of the hour has befuddled the right hon. Gentleman. If the big company were prepared to push their prices up even with a competitor in the field, what does he imagine they would do without a competitor at all? Obviously, if one let the only competitor in existence go out of business, the company would have a completely free monopoly with the whole of the output in their own hands. What has happened has given me no strong reason for thinking that they would not have reaped the whole benefit.

There is nothing new about this differential. In 1946 a statement was issued on the price controlling of building materials after consultation with the Building Materials Producers' Council, and in that paper we deal with the question of what should be done where the producers' costs vary widely, and we have this problem. The statement went on to enumerate four ways of dealing with that, one of which was the fixing of different prices for different producers. It has always been envisaged, and I believe everybody has always thought it right to do it.

There are two other points I wish to make before I sit down. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) asked, quite fairly, what about Thomas McGhie & Sons, Ltd., who produce gypsum? Have they threatened to go outside the Order? As he knows, they are a subsidiary, wholly owned by the group, and it is to be assumed that their policy will be the policy of the group. It is quite true that the group have not voluntarily walked out in this case, as they did in the other case. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the statement to the Press?"] I have not issued a statement to the Press. I am the only party to this argument who has not issued a statement to the Press.

Although they have not stepped out in the case of gypsum, I took the view that I had better cover that case with an Order, first, because it has always been difficult to disentangle the figures for plaster from the figures for gypsum. They have always been put in together by the group and dealt with together. After all, the public had to pay an increased price for several weeks because the company walked out of the voluntary agreement before I could lay an Order. Having once had that experience, I did not feel justified in taking the risk of the public for weeks having to pay a higher price for gypsum because I could not make an order. For the sake of completeness, I thought I had better keep the whole thing as one and refer it to the Palmer Committee.

I do not believe we are threatening the livelihood of the employees of Thomas McGhie & Sons, Ltd., because if efficient production means anything, then allowing one undertaking to undercut its competitors cannot possibly be a threat to the livelihood of the people working in that undertaking. It must be the other way around. One must be putting them in a position to be able to capture the market.

There is just one other thing to be said about the Palmer Committee. A lot has been said about the Palmer Committee tonight. Let hon. Members realise what it is. The Palmer Committee was set up by one of my predecessors several years ago to advise him on this very question of price control. The members of it are, first, Sir William Palmer, the chairman, who was the principal industrial adviser to the Board of Trade, and who is now the chairman of the British Rayon Federation. There is Sir Arnold Plant, Professor of Commerce in the University of London. There is Mr. P. F. Carpenter, a member of the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, nominated by the Institute for the purpose. There is Mr. Ryan, the vice-chairman of the Metal Box Company, and Sir Luke Fawcett, a lone member of the trade union movement on the committee.

I should have thought that there could not be a much more respectable body or circumspect body from the point of view of industrialists than that. Is it not significant that the only one of the two of us who was not prepared to let the case go to that Committee was the company? I was prepared to let it go there. I was prepared that nothing should be done until we received the report. Yet here is someone who says, "We mean to do as we like without it going there."

I think the simple issue is whether I should allow British Plasterboard to decide for themselves at what price plasterboard should be sold at a time of great demand and inadequate supply. If this Prayer is carried, the price of three-quarters of the plasterboard sold in this country and most of the plaster and gypsum will go up immediately and considerably. If it happens in this case, how can we stop it happening in similar industries? It would mean a very considerable rise in the price of some very important things. I have moved to prevent that happening and I believe that on this issue I shall have the bulk of informed opinion behind me.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. W. Robson-Brown (Esher)

I sincerely hope that this Order will be revoked tonight. I want to divorce my mind and that of the House from any question of the company's share capital or anything else relating to this matter except the one simple fact of principle which is involved in it. It is a fundamental principle to which the House should give very careful consideration. I must say that I was very surprised that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) adopted the argument which he advanced, and I think that when he reads his speech in HANSARD he will regret having made it.

The position is clear and precise and boils down to this, that this Order will increase the monopoly powers of the largest producer in the industry. It is on that I base my argument. The position at this moment is that the Plasterboard Group produce 70 per cent. of the plasterboard made in this country. The effect of making two prices and of their competitors in the business quoting higher prices than them inevitably will be to drive the business into the hands of the biggest manufacturer. For this I have no better evidence than the document to which the hon. Gentleman the Minister referred—Price Control of Building Materials, 1946. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the document gave four methods of dealing with a situation like this, and I will read from page 3, paragraph (d): The fixing of different prices for different producers. This involves difficulty of distribution unless the producers of particular products can he confined to particular areas, which is not practicable in this particular industry. If this cannot he done orders will tend to go to the low price producers at the expense of the high price firms, with the consequent over loading of the low price producers.

Mr. G. Brown

An important consideration here is the supply of plasterboard as against the demand. We need every ounce that is produced at the moment, by whomever it is produced, to get anywhere near the demand.

Mr. Robson-Brown

The position now is that British Plasterboard have a 30 per cent. capacity which is not being used. Is that correct? I would advise the right hon. Gentleman to make himself acquainted with the facts, because I understand that is the position. If they have the raw materials, they can increase production and put their competitors out of business.

Mr. G. Brown

That may be so, but they can only get the materials if I diverted them away from the small cost men to them, and that is what I am not prepared to do.

Mr. Robson-Brown

That is what I suspected was in the minds of the right hon. Gentleman's advisers. This is a most cumbersome way of dealing with the matter. I am with the right hon. Gentleman in the opinion that there should never have been any need for the introduction of this Order and that the industry, the Minister and the Palmer Committee could have found a satisfactory way out. The report on price controls indicates five ways in which a satisfactory solution could be found. At present Government spokesmen are preaching over the country the iniquities of unfair price fixing. There is not a more glaring example of it than this Order.

Hon. Members on both sides object against monopolies. I am satisfied that in the long run such orders as this increase the danger of monopoly and enforced monopolies. I wonder what the productivity teams who come back from America and what the United States think when they see an order of this kind? I should have imagined it would have been better for the industry and the Minister to have taken counsel together to see whether the high costed producers could have been assisted by the others with advice and research, which is the modern tendency in industry, and worked together to find a solution.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The Minister was prepared to do that.

Mr. Robson-Brown

I do not want to prolong the debate on that.

The Government say they are always concerned about price fixing. If the industry had done this on its own and created two prices for a product in short supply, there would have been a howl about it from the party opposite, but in this case it is being done by Government order. What it seeks to do is to discriminate in favour of the high cost producer against the low cost producer. Was there ever a time in the history of the nation when it was so important to encourage the maximum efficiency of every firm of every kind, and to put up no barriers. This puts a premium upon efficiency, and hon. Members on the Government side cannot argue that way. The hon. Member for Hornsey put his finger upon the point. Here is an inducement to the inefficient to slacken its efforts, because what incentive is there in present conditions?

The Minister was up against a problem which is almost insoluble. It is now a new problem. We are always facing it in industry. It is, in effect, virtually the law of supply and demand, and the survival of the fittest. What the Minister ought to have endeavoured to do was to make all fit to survive. There is no question that this now has to be remedied, and I hope it will be remitted to the Palmer Committee. Some solution of a satisfactory character will have to be found.

I believe that what has happened is that there has been a dispute between the Minister and the British Plaster Board Company, and the Minister has decided that he will discipline the company. To do this he has fixed the maximum selling price for the company at below a level which will give a decent return to the company. This is something which I do not wish to see in British political life.

I am reminded of lines in the "Charge of the Light Brigade": Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die: The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) pointed out that the Ministry can, by fluctuating orders, spell the life and death of any particular company.

Mr. Dames (East Ham, North)

On a point of order. The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) is lying in a peculiar position.

Mr. Robson-Brown

I do not think the Minister ever intended such a situation to arise. I believe that the best thing that could happen is for this Order to be rescinded and for the matter to be referred to the Palmer Committee.

Mr. G. Brown

I had to move to stop the company behaving as it was, but I did what I said I would do in any case—straightaway referred the matter to the Palmer Committee. It has been with that Committee for a couple of weeks.

Mr. Robson-Brown

I hope that never again will an order be brought before the House which creates two different prices, or, worse still, two prices as between one company and another. Action such as this could be the death knell of any private company.

11.23 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I noticed that the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson-Brown) used a quotation which included the word "reason." I wonder if he was thinking, while he was speaking, of his own reasoning. The hon. Member said that he did not want to encourage a monopoly by, enabling its products to go on to the market more cheaply than the products of its competitors. He argued that that would drive their competitors out of the market, and that the monopoly would thereby be strengthened. I am sure that the hon. Member was in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) was giving exactly the opposite reason for the withdrawal of this Order.

The hon. Member for Hornsey said that by bringing in this Order we were moving against this most fortunate firm, with its 75 per cent. of all the manufacture of plasterboard, and were breaking a sacred principle. I have not stated this unfairly. These two arguments seem not to be reasonable. We on this side of the House want to offer another principle altogether. I had an opportunity of speaking on this matter in 1946, when the hon. Member for Hornsey was also sitting opposite, and my point of view then, as now, is that this material is essential for housing. When I spoke on this subject then plasterboard was in very short supply, and I think it was agreed that this particular group of firms had a virtual monopoly in the trade.

My hon. Friends and I ask for as much competition as possible because the principle really is that we should get our houses built, and the people served. Perhaps I am making constituency points, but that concerns every hon. Member in the House. When I referred to this matter some years ago, I said that profits had varied between 20 and 25 per cent., but my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) says they are down to 16⅔ per cent. That, I think, is still fairly reasonable.

This group, which came in early and obtained a virtual monopoly—not, I agree, by chance, or unfairly—gain an advantage if these orders bring about the voluntary negotiations and agreement we all want. Then all is well, but we on this side stick to our principle that it is the community which comes first.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. Assheton (Blackburn, West)

We have had an extremely interesting debate, and I rise to comment on one or two things which have been said on behalf of the Government from the Front Bench, and also upon what was said by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland). I intervene because, for a number of years, I represented Rushcliffe, in Nottinghamshire, from where much of the gypsum production of this country comes. I have no connection with the group of companies under discussion, but have had knowledge of its operations for a number of years and I should like, therefore, to express some views.

I would say at the outset that I do not agree with the figures which were given by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South, as to the profits of the group, and I am prepared to show him a balance sheet after the House has adjourned.

Mr. Ellis Smith

What are the profits?

Mr. Assheton

I am prepared to go into that in detail if the hon. Member wishes, and have already promised to do that with his hon. Friend.

Mr. Smith

Over the last two years?

Mr. Assheton

The consolidated profit was £451,000 last year, and this year, as hon. Members will see in "The Times" today, it is something less.

Mr. G. Brown

Could we have the gross figures?

Mr. Assheton

The gross figures were £1,500,000 trading profit for that year, and for this year it is something lower.

The first point is the question of discrimination, and I think that the case has been well put by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) as well as several other hon. Members. Here we have a group of companies whose selling price is fixed by the Government, and at a price lower than that which their competitors are allowed to charge. There is still a considerable amount of industry run by free enterprise in this country, but hon. Members opposite would see that sphere diminished, and the nationalised industries increased; but so long as the capitalist element survives it must be allowed to work.

I should like to suggest that the capitalist system does not have a chance to work if the most efficient producers, or the most efficient people in business, are not allowed to make more than the least efficient. It is just the same as working on piece rates. If the man who works hard is not going to get more than the man who does not work so hard, the system breaks down.

Mr. G. Brown

He is getting about £1 million a year more.

Mr. Assheton

That is not at all relevant, but the argument is just the same.

The right hon. Gentleman gave an illustration from his experience at the Ministry of Agriculture. He said that the same number of the "Economist," which criticised severely these orders about plaster and plasterboard, also criticised the Government about its attitude to agricultural prices. All the time the right hon. Gentleman was at the Ministry of Agriculture, did he introduce differential prices? When the milk producers in North-East Lancashire said that it cost more to produce milk because they were on the Pennines than it did in the South of England, did he offer higher prices? He did nothing of the kind. He offered the same price to everybody. He cannot say one thing in one case, and another in another.

Mr. Brown

The two instances are entirely different.

Mr. Assheton

I cannot agree more, but the right hon. Gentleman gave the illustration from agriculture and applied it to this industry. Therefore, I am entitled to reply to his criticism. I do not think any hon. Member opposite appreciated how the capitalist system works. As long as it works, the more efficient firm, the more efficient business, and the more efficient man must be allowed to make more than the less efficient. Here is a group of companies, highly efficient, and competing, for example, with the I.C.I.. which is not a poor company but which is to be allowed to charge a higher price than the British Plaster Board Company.

We want to come to the question: "Is the price fair"? I explained that we, on this side of the House, criticised these Orders first because they are discriminatory, which we think is a wrong principle to introduce and which is a new principle for the Minister to introduce by Order. The right hon. Gentleman has not another order in his whole Department which is discriminatory in this way. Am I right? That is not challenged. Is the price fair? I would suggest there has been a considerable misunderstanding on the part of his officials and on his own part, and on the part of his predecessor.

I believe that the Minister has failed to understand how the capital structure of this particular group of companies was built up. I remember very well how it was built up in the 'thirties. What happened, for example, was that the Plaster Board Company bought a large gypsum group in Nottinghamshire and paid for the shares of that company by issuing to the shareholders shares in British Plasterboard. These were 5s. shares. They were at that time standing in the market at 40s. a share, or eight times their par value. The equivalent which the sellers received was £2 and not 5s.

But when the Minister and his advisers come to try and calculate the capital of the Company they are looking back at the 5s. rather than at the £2. Naturally, that leads to a very strange conclusion. It leads to the conclusion that the Minister believes, quite sincerely, that he is remunerating the shareholders of this company with the return of 15 per cent. of their capital. The facts are that if we take, instead of the nominal capital, the cash or cash equivalent that has been invested in this business, far from earning 15 per cent., which the Minister thought he had given, the return is only 2.2 per cent.

Let us see about the shares of the company at the present time. I think it was my hon. Friend behind me who said when the recent issue of shares was made, the Capital Issues Committee fixed the price at 30s. That price is now the equivalent of 20s. in view of the increase of capital to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That was the price the Capital Issues Committee fixed, and these shares now stand at 15s.

Mr. Crosland

But they are still higher than they were on 1st January—five months before this Order was made.

Mr. Assheton


Everyone who invested money at that time has lost a quarter of his capital, and he is only getting a return of about 4 per cent. on the money invested. That is not a high return on a business of this sort. Since this, however, things have gone much worse, and although in the first half of last year the profit level was good, in the second half year it was very much less good, and the result of that was that the profits for the whole year were lower than the year before.

If things go on as they are now, that profit will be very much reduced and the dividend will also have to be reduced. This is a serious thing, and I will explain why. This is a great and expanding company, and it may have to go to the City or the shareholders for new capital. It is not very easy for a company to go to the City or the shareholders, when it has just substantially reduced its dividends, and when it is subject to treatment of this sort.

I am not the only person, nor are hon. Members on this side the only people who have been critical. There was a very critical leading article in "The Times," and strong criticism in the "Economist" and in the "News-Chronicle"—and those are not all Conservative newspapers. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should pay serious attention to these criticisms. It is a very difficult matter and it is becoming more and more difficult to raise risk capital in this country. If we look at the issues of new capital made over the last year or two we see that an enormous amount of fixed interest capital has been raised—debentures, preference shares, and so on—but to get money for risk capital for ordinary shares is becoming more and more difficult. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to take that into account and to remember what he is doing here is something quite novel for his Department.

I should like to refer to the question as to whether this industry is charging fair prices to the consumers for the products; if the Order is not passed, and the company get their way instead of the Minister, the additional cost, I think to the building of each house would be about 8s. I want to refer to a most interesting pamphlet I recently received from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. On page 22 there is a table giving prices of all the different building

materials, showing prices pre-war and prices today. It is significant that the prices of plaster, plasterboard and gypsum have risen less than practically any other building material in the whole country.

We see that cement has increased by over double, bricks by 82 per cent., soft wood five times, lead six times, but plasterboard and gypsum have increased about two thirds above pre-war prices —and that is not unreasonable. That shows efficiency. That shows the company has been doing its job well by the community, and it is grossly unfair to suggest the prices they are asking are unreasonable.

We have two issues to decide tonight. The first is whether it is right to discriminate in this way and offer a lower price to the more efficient concerns. Secondly, whether the prices actually fixed in the Order are fair. It is extraordinarily difficult to argue accountancy problems across the Floor of the House, but I beg the Minister to look at the matter again, and see whether he cannot form a conclusion different to that formed up to now. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this had gone to the Palmer Committee. I have a great respect for the chairman of that Committee. He is an able man, and was a very able civil servant, but the Committee is not an independent tribunal, but a body appointed by the Minister.

We think this is a bad Order—a very bad one because it discriminates in this way between different producers in the same industry. The right hon. Gentleman has not denied that he has made no other discriminatory Order in the building industry, and to mark our disapproval, particularly against this discrimination I must advise those on this side of the House to vote in favour of the Prayer.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes 157; Noes, 141.

Division No. 166.] AYES [11.42 p.m.
Aitken, W. T. Black, C. W. Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)
Arbuthnot, John Bossom, A. C. Buchan-Hepburn, P. G, T.
Ashton, M. (Chelmsford) Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Bullock, Capt. M.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Boyle, Sir Edward Carr, Robert (Mitcham)
Astor, Hon. M. L. Bracken, Rt. Hon. B. Clarke, Col. Ralph {East Grinstead)
Baxter, A. B. Braine, B. R, Clarke, Brig. Terence {Portsmouth, W.)
Bell, R. W. Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Colegate, A.
Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston) Braithwaile, Lt.-Cmdr G.(Bristol, N.W.) Conant, Maj. R. J. E.
Birch, Nigel Bromley-Davenport, Lt Col. W. Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)
Cranborne, Viscount Lambert, Hon. G. Robson-Brown, W.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Law, Rt. Hon. R. K. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Ropner, Col. L.
Crouch, R. F. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Crowder, Capt. John (Finchley) Lindsay, Martin Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur
Cundiff, F. W. Linstead, H. N. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Cuthbert, W. N. Llewellyn, D. T. Scott, Donald
de Chair, Somerset Low, A. R. W. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Deedes, W. F, Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Digby, S. Wingfield Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Spearman, A. C. M.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight) Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)
Donner, P. W. Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Drewe, C. McKibbin, A. J. Storey, S.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Erroll, F. J. Maclean, Fitzroy Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Fisher, Nigel Fraser, Sir I. (Morecambe & Lonsdale) MacLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.) Studholme, H. G
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Summers, G. S.
Gage, C. H. Maitland, Cmdr. J. W. Sutcliffe, H.
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Manningham-Buller, R. E. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Gammans, L. D. Marlowe, A. A. H. Teeling, W.
Gridley, Sir Arnold Marshall, Sidney (Sutton) Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Maude, Angus (Ealing, S.) Thompson, Lt.-Cmdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Grimston, Robert (Westbury) Mellor, Sir John Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Molson, A. H. E. Touche, G. C.
Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Monckton, Sir Walter Turner, H. F. L.
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Turton, R. H.
Hay, John Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Vane, W. M. F.
Heald, Lionel Mott-Radclyffe, C. E. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Nield, Basil (Chester) Vosper, D. F.
Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Walker-Smith, D. C.
Hirst, Geoffrey Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Hollis, M. C. Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-Super-Mare) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Hornsby-Smith, Miss P. Perkins, W. R. D. Watkinson, H. A.
Hornsbrugh, Rt. Hon,-Florence Peto, Brig, C. H. M. Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)
Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Pitman, I. J. Wheatley, Maj. M. J. (Poole)
Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. N. J. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Williams, Charles (Torquay)
Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Hylton-Foster, H. B. Raikes, H. V. Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Jennings, R. Redmayne, M. Wills, G.
Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Remnant, Hon. P. Wood, Hon. R.
Jones, A. (Hall Green) Renton, D. L. M.
Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge) Robertson, Sir David (Caithness) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H. Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S) Mr. Pickthorn and
Mr. Charles Taylor.
Acland, Sir Richard Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Jones, Jack (Rotherham)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Edwards, John (Brighouse) Keenan, W.
Awbery, S. S. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Kenyon, C.
Bacon, Miss Alice Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) King, Dr. H. M.
Balfour, A. Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Kinghorn, Sqn. Ldr. E.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Field, Capt. W. J. Kinley, J.
Bartley, P. Fletcher, Eric (Islington E.) Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Benn, Wedgwood Foot, M. M. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Benson, G. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Longden, Fred (Small Heath)
Blenkinsop, A. Ganley, Mrs. C. S MacColl, J. E.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Gibson, C. W. Mack, J. D.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Gilzean, A. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur {Wakefield) Mellish, R. J.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Grey, C F. Mikardo, Ian
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mitchison G R.
Callaghan, L. J. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Moeran, E W.
Champion, A. J. Griffiths, William (Exchange) Monslow, W.
Cooks, F. S. Hale, Joseph (Rochdale) Moody, A. S.
Coldrick, W. Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Morley, R.
Cooper, John (Deptford) Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda (Peckham) Hall, John (Gateshead, W.) Mort D. L.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hardy, E. A. Moyle, A.
Crosland, C. A. R. Hargreaves, A. Mulley F W.
Crossman, R. H. S. Hastings, S. Nally, W.
Daines, P. Herbison, Miss M. Neal Harold (Balsover)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Hobson, C. R. Padley, W. E.
Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.) Holman, P. Pannell, T. C.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth) Pargiter, G. A.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Houghton, D. Pearson, A.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Popplewell, E.
Deer, G Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)
Delargy, H J Hynd, J. B. (Atterclffle) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Diamond, J. Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.) Proctor, W. T.
Donnelly, D. Jones, David (Hartlepool) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W. Bromwich) Jones, Frederick Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)
Richards, R. Sparks, J. A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Stross, Dr. Barnett White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Sylvester, G. O. Wilkins, W. A.
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Willey, Frederick (Sunderland)
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Taylor, Robert (Morpeth) Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)
Ross, William Thomas, David (Aberdare) Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Shackleton, E. A. A. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Shurmer, P. L. E. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Silverman, Julius (Erdington) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton) Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Simmons, C. J. Thurtle, Ernest Yates, V. F.
Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Wallace, H. W.
Snow, J. W. Watkins, T. E. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Bowden and Mr. Royle.


That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 11th May 1951, entitled the Plasterboard (Prices) (No. 1) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 864), a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th May, be annulled.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.