asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that users of steel are hard hit owing to the inability of English rolling-mills to supply requirements and that considerable orders are being placed in the United States to prevent a partial closing of factories; whether he will take the necessary steps to reduce the duty to a uniform 10 per cent.; and will he see that no effort is spared to increase supplies of billets to the rolling-mills of this country?
Will the right hon. Gentleman do what he can at the moment to assist a number of small manufacturers who are unable to carry on their duties, whose men are unemployed, and whose businesses are losing all the value of their goodwill?
I think the hon. Member has the best of reasons for knowing that I am doing that, because he brought a case to my notice, with the result that they did obtain some steel.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of the industrialists concerned hold the view that this acute shortage of steel has been grossly exaggerated, and will he and his Department exercise some caution, so that increased quantities of materials are not produced that might mean a surplus production?
Is the right hon. Gentleman's Department bringing any pressure to bear to alter the restrictive policy of the Iron and Steel Federation, of which the hon. Gentleman behind him is so eloquent a member?
Of course, these things have to be very carefully handled. There is an abnormal pressure for steel at the moment, but we cannot anticipate that the demand will always continue at such a level. We have to avoid the danger of excess capacity and then the demand falling off.
32 and 33. Captain Strickland asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) on what date the attention of his Department was first drawn to the probable shortage of home-produced steel supplies; and what steps were taken to investigate and meet the difficulty;
(2) on what date the shortage of home-produced steel supplies was first brought to the notice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and by whom?
The possibility that special steps would be necessary to meet the increased demand for steel in this country was brought to the notice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee by the British Iron and Steel Federation in the autumn of 1935. Arrangements were then made with the Continental Cartel for imports in excess of those provided for in the agreement with that body. As my hon. Friend is aware, much development of home productive capacity has been undertaken since then, and further purchases have been made abroad. The sudden increase in the world demand in the autumn of 1936 has, however, seriously affected the flow of imports, and various adjustments of import duties have been made for the purpose of maintaining and increasing the rate of importation.
Will my right hon. Friend give an answer to the first part of the question, as to when the Government first became aware of the possibility of this shortage, and, secondly, in view of the reply which he gave a few moments ago that there might be a necessity to revert to a higher tariff, is he satisfied that the Import Duties Advisory Committee have the power to act speedily enough to meet public urgencies such as are now in existence?
In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, of course, the Government were aware of the action of the Iron and Steel Federation in bringing this matter to the notice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. With regard to the second part, yes, I do believe that the committee can act with sufficient speed, and my hon. and gallant Friend will, of course, realise that the reduction of the duties is of a temporary character.
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the smaller users of steel are not exploited by the international cartel, and that they have a fair chance as compared with the bigger consumers who have preferential treatment?
They do have a fair chance, and if the hon. Member has any evidence in support of the imputation which he has made, I shall be only too glad to receive it and to consider it.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the steel mills at Pontnewynydd are working short time in consequence of a shortage of supplies of steel; that considerable dissatisfaction exists amongst the workpeople because of the unemployment resulting; and whether he is taking steps to ensure that adequate supplies of steel are made available to the works in question?
My attention had not previously been drawn to the difficulties of these particular works, but I am satisfied that all practicable steps are being taken to increase supplies of steel to the tinplate and other steel using industries.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there is a fair distribution among the small works of the amount of supplies that are available, and is he aware that Messrs. Lysaght, of Newport, a very substantial concern, recently made an application to the joint board of employers and workpeople to be allowed to work overtime, whereas small works such as those referred to in the question are not able to work half-time?