asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department whether he is aware that pig-iron is at present being sold and delivered at steel works in Lanarkshire and Glasgow district from the Continent at 72s. 6d per ton, while the price of the same class of pig-iron at the blast furnaces in Scotland is 76s. to 77s. 6d. per ton, exclusive of railway carriage to steel works; that Continental steel plates are being delivered at the shipyards and works on the Clyde at 145s. to 152s. 6d. per ton, as against 162s. 6d. to 167s. 6d. per ton from Scottish steel works; that steel bars are being delivered at 103s. 6d. per ton from the Continent, as against 150s. per ton from the local works; and whether he can give any information as to the conditions as to subsidies, etc., in Continental countries which result in the undercutting of British manufacturers of these commodities?
From inquiries I have made I gather that the figures quoted by my hon. Friend are substantially correct, although they may not relate to identical classes of material. With regard to the last part of the question, I am not aware of any direct sub sidies by Governments on the Continent to the industries concerned.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the difference in quality between Scottish pig-iron and foreign pig-iron and between British steel and foreign steel, is more than counterbalanced by the difference in price?
Yes, Sir, I think I can give my hon. Friend that information. First, I will deal with the question of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). I am aware that the foreign pig-iron referred to in the question is not of the same quality as that produced in Scotland. With regard to the relative position of exports and imports, in May, 1927, the last month for Which we have figures, we imported 356,000 tons of iron and steel and exported 422,000 tons. That is to say, we exported more than we imported; and we exported last month more iron and steel than we have exported in any month since the end of the War except doing the month of May, 1923, at the time of the Ruhr occupation, when we exported about 3,000 tons more.
Is not one of the big factors in the price in England the high railway rates in this country and are the Government considering a change in the method of arriving at these rates?
No, I suggest that the reasons for the difference in cost are these—lower wages and longer hours on the Continent; probably indirect subsidies which I cannot trace in the form of low rates of interest granted to the industry: the fluctuations of the franc, which have pulled down the price of iron and steel in France and therefore all over the Continent; rebates by producers of pig-iron to export houses, and possibly a certain amount of rebate advantage given by foreign railways for export iron and steel.