HC Deb 07 December 1950 vol 482 cc83-5W
Mr. Jenkins

asked the Minister of Supply whether he will make a statement about metals which are now, or which are becoming, scarce; and what steps he is taking to ensure that available supplies are distributed to the best advantage among the industries concerned.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

A world shortage of some metals has been developing during recent months. This is due, basically, to the effects of the international situation and in particular to the increased demands in many countries for rearmament and stockpiling. Measures of alleviation are under discussion internationally and my Department is making every effort to increase supplies; but some shortages are inevitable with world conditions as they are today. Restrictions of consumption, in some cases substantial both in amount and in their effect on industry, are already in force. Supplies of zinc to consumers were cut early in October to a rate equal to 75 per cent. of consumption during the first nine months of 1950. Supplies of aluminium to consumers are limited to an amount well below current demand and nickel has been rationed by the suppliers among their customers to nine-tenths of what they had in 1949 and early 1950. Supplies of steel sheet and tinplate have been much below requirements and subject to strict allocation since the end of the war.

The Government have now decided to take further steps to ensure the proper distribution in the national interest of those metals where a severe shortage persists. The measures under consideration in consultation with industry include restrictions on the export of semi-manufactures, the probihition of the end uses of these metals for inessential articles, and the institution of allocation systems.

Meanwhile, the supply prospects for the metals which are at present causing most concern are as follows:


Supplies of all grades of zinc available to industry over 1951 as a whole will, so far as can be seen at present, involve further cuts in consumption and out of the amount available the increasing requirements of defence will have to be met. During the first quarter of the year the position is likely to be even more serious owing to a particularly acute shortage of the ordinary grade which is used mainly for galvanising and for making brass and zinc oxide. Though every effort is being made to avoid it, the supply of this grade may have to be restricted during that quarter to little more than 50 per cent. of the rate of consumption during the first nine months of 1950.


A severe shortage of certain special shapes will affect particular fabricators, unless they are in a position to substitute the normal shapes in their processes. For the rest, the prospects for copper in the early months of 1951 are that supplies will not allow of consumption at a higher rate than in the first half of 1950, which represents a cut of about 10 per cent. on the current rate of consumption and an even greater cut on normal civilian consumption as the requirements for defence progressively increase.


So far as can be seen at present, supplies of virgin aluminium which have been running at about 17,000 tons a months, will have to be restricted in 1951 to 15,000 tons a month, out of which the substantially increasing demand for defence will have to be met.


There does not appear to be any prospect of an increase in supplies above the present level in spite of the growing demand for defence purposes.


There is at present no real shortage of general steel but steel production in 1951 may be affected by difficulties in supplies of steel making raw materials, particularly imported scrap (mainly from Germany) and imported iron ore. I hope these difficulties can be overcome but if not it seems possible that the 1950 level of steel output may not be achieved in 1951. No improvement in supplies of steel sheet or tinplate can be expected until the new plant in South Wales comes into production in the later part of 1951.

It is obvious that if shortages of nonferrous metals of the kind with which we are now threatened continue throughout 1951, they cannot but impose a serious check upon the rising output of the engineering industries on which we are so heavily dependent not only for our rearmament programme but also for a large part of our export trade and for essential investment at home. Steps will, of course, be taken to ensure that these metals are available for rearmament. It will be realised that the effect of rearmament here and elsewhere must inevitably restrict the supply of certain raw materials for civilian purposes, but it is my hope that the successful outcome of the international discussions to which I have referred earlier in my statement will help to moderate some of these difficulties.