Germany (Dismantlings)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 September 1948.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Snow.]

10.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

I wish to raise on the Adjournment tonight one or two glaring examples connected with the dismantling and destruction in Germany, which I have raised, not in detail, at Question Time in this House and in Debate, and on which I have received no satisfactory reply. May I say, at the outset, that I deplore very much the departure of my noble Friend Lord Pakenham, who sits in another place, from the control of Germany. I say this in no disparagement of his successor, except that I think that I should have got replies from him which might have prevented my raising these matters tonight.

The first matter which I mentioned on 30th June concerned the destruction of buildings, part factories and part offices, of the Deutsche Werke at Spandau. The Under-Secretary, when I complained about the destruction of these buildings on 14th July, said: I am informed that the conversion into flats of these offices which were themselves badly damaged was impracticable and that the German authorities concerned agreed with this view. On being pressed further, in supplementary questions, which I have not time to quote, he replied concerning the question of conversion: On the first point, the German authorities agree with the statement I have given."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th July, 1948; Vol. 453. c. 1177.] I was very much surprised at hearing that reply, because I have information, not only from reports of responsible people in Berlin, but from the evidence of my own eyes. I was taken to see the site by a responsible representative of the Social Democratic Party. I did the obvious thing—wrote to my friends in Berlin, and said: Here is the answer; what is the reply—because I was floored. I was not surprised to receive the answer which I got, namely: It is typical of the subterfuge which is indulged in by a certain number of junior officials of the C.C.G. Franz Neumann, whose name I have no hesitation in mentioning, and who supported the democratic cause in concentration camps and elsewhere throughout the war and was leader of the Social Democratic Party in Berlin, replied: The only one employed by the Deutsche Werke who had any say in the matter and who was asked about it by the British officer who rejected the second proposal was a junior. That was the conversion into flats. I think that there was an error in my original Question that it was part offices and part factory. The idea was that these should be converted into 200 or 300 workers' flats in a completely devastated town, and the alternative measure was that the building should be converted into occupational premises for light industry for which there had already been an application on behalf of 21 firms. My friend, in his letter of 30th August said that the German expert consulted was thoroughly satisfied with the conversion, and that the conversion to either could have been satisfactorily made. All except this one junior German official, who apparently was the person on whose opinion the decision was taken, according to the Control Commission, quite rightly said that they ought to be converted. My friend went on to say Unfortunately this verification of facts is only of historical importance for meanwhile the building has been entirely pulled down leaving only the bare foundations standing. I submitted in my speech that it was a scandal that any lunatic should be allowed to have the building pulled down. I repeat that and I am surprised that the Under-Secretary should be palmed off with such a reply from the Control Commission. I hope he can give an assurance that no further demolition of that kind will take place.

The second and quite different matter refers to the level of industry plan, and particularly to the production of excavators. I know something about the production of excavators, as every Member is aware. There is no secret about that. I have always questioned the whole basis of calculating the level of industry plan for general mechanical engineering. I have always thought that the people who did it had not the slightest conception of what they were doing, and I hope that my hon. Friend will give me the names of these people when he comes to reply. They were not officials but people pinched from British industry in order to go out there and advise, and probably none of them is there any longer.

It was decided, among other things, that Weserhütte, one of the three factories producing excavators in the British zone of Germany, should be pulled down. I happened to visit the factory, and I saw the production engineer and talked about its capacity. In consequence, I had some correspondence with Lord Henderson. I was told that, according to the level of industry plan, the figure was 137 per cent. of 1936 production—I question that—for the total output of excavators from these factories. In 1936 the figure was 285, and yet Lord Henderson tells me in a letter that the total possible output is 144 machines. That is only 50 per cent. of the 1936 figure, and is not even the 75 per cent. permitted under the revised level of industry programme. It is certainly not 137 per cent., which was the figure given to me in the letter by Lord Henderson.

Lord Henderson used the usual silly incompetent argument. It goes like this. Here we have factories which produce excavators. We will reduce the total overall capacity of general engineering so that it is only so much per cent. com- pared with pre-war, and we will assume that within that capacity, they will produce sufficient quantities of these machines. That is where the fallacy lies.

I do not want to detain the House on this matter, but I ask that the whole of this question should be properly reexamined. The whole of Germany is knocked down. There are 56 cities in ruins—I do not want to dilate on that because, as is well known, I protested about it during the war. Undoubtedly it was not sufficient to leave 137 per cent. let alone only 50 per cent. of total excavator capacity, which should have been at least 300 per cent. of the 1936 level in order for a start to be made to rebuild these cities. It is no use my hon. Friend daring to reply that it was no use leaving these factories because they could not have used them at once.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

Perhaps my hon. Friend will make his figures slightly more clear. He has said that we claimed that the capacity remaining was 137 per cent. over 1936, and at the same time gave certain output figures—I think 144 was the figure, or only 50 per cent. of the 1936 output. The difference, of course, is not between the output now and the out-put in 1936, but in the capacity now and the capacity in 1936. The output now is only a small percentage of the capacity.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

It is no use my hon. Friend trying to trick me on that, because I know. I can assure him that they are not capable of producing more than 50 per cent. of their 1936 total capacity. These villains in the Foreign Office have so messed them about, that they are incapable of producing sufficient machines. All this talk about the difference between capacity and output, is simply an official quibble in order to get out of a jam.

If the Foreign Office like to go on with that argument, I will bring this matter up again and again next Session, and in the Session after that. It is absolute rubbish. I do not suppose that the two factories are producing 30 machines a year between them at present. My hon. Friend has not been there. I have been to these places. and I know what they are producing. They are not producing 144 machines a year, and cannot do so at present. The argument used by Lord Henderson in his letter is typical of what the Foreign Office scoundrels have been doing in Germany. He emphasises that the Demag works at Beurath alone are capable of producing 80 excavators a year. I am supposed to assume from that that if the three factories were turned on to work, they would produce 240 machines. That is rubbish.

Factories in Dusseldorf which make horizontal boring machines which, as the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) knows, are practically the yardstick of heavy engineering production, have been deliberately destroyed. There are now no means in the British zone, so far as I know, of getting more horizontal boring machines, except by getting them from Russia or buying them from America. If my hon. Friend knows where I can get them, I hope he will tell me, because I want them. It is rubbish to assume that these factories can be turned over to the production of these machines. The Foreign Office officials sit back complacently in their chairs, and say it is all O.K., and my hon. Friend accepts it. I am surprised that he does not call in somebody who really knows the job; I know it, because it is my trade.

It is impossible to rebuild Germany unless we allow her a sufficient number of mechanical excavators. The very means whereby she can clear her towns are being destroyed. The people there know the facts, and protest against all this because they know that what is being done is making the carrying out of the reconstruction programme impossible. We are spending more in buying mechanical excavators from America today than we were saving when the basic petrol ration was removed—or as much. If steel and coal is available there is all this productive capacity on our doorstep.

It is evident that my hon. Friend did not listen to the Foreign Secretary's speech yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman said that Germany had made an amazing recovery in steel production, more than was ever anticipated. I have consistently said, "Do not pull the factories down; destroy the factories which can only be used for war purposes, but do not be lunatics and deliberately destroy the only means you have of reconstructing Europe." That is what is being done to satisfy a ridiculous plan. It is being done to give sops to certain small countries of Europe. I do not care twopence about them. The situation is so serious that we must preserve every useful piece of productive capacity that can be utilised for production. I want my hon. Friend to assure the House that he will look into this matter of excavator production in Germany, and I can assure him, without any venom at all, that I will gladly place my services at his disposal. I doubt if he will accept that offhand.

Thirdly, I come to my final complaint which is the level of steel production in Germany. I agreed with my right hon. Friend when he staked out a decent claim for 10,700,000 tons of steel per annum. At that time the Russians wanted 2 million tons a year, but in the course of time, my right hon. Friend has seen his claim achieved. I am not complaining about that, but what this country does not realise or understand is that 10,700,000 tons of steel is the level of production necessary for German internal economy. There is nothing over for general European reconstruction. The Foreign Secretary said—I do not remember whether it was in this House or not—that his task would be a lot easier if only he had a few more million tons of steel per annum. But the Government are deliberately destroying the means of producing the stuff they want.

Yesterday my right hon. Friend said that 10 million tons of steel was going to be achieved far quicker than he anticipated. Yet last year, at a conference at Düsseldorf, at which there were representatives from the Ruhr and steel experts from outside who were representing people interested in British iron and steel production, it was specifically stipulated in the minutes—when I sent for the minutes that page had been removed, but fortunately I got another copy—that there was to be no production of steel in Germany for export. I will not mention the gentlemen's names, but only what they did. They are well known in the steel trade.

In consequence of what has happened, Germany is bound to import more and more food and pay for it. The only means Germany has of paying for her food is by exports, and pre-war she exported 2¼ million tons of what are known in the trade as raw materials in steel. At that conference it was stipulated that there should be no export of steel. When the Foreign Ministers met in London later, they decided probably that that was nonsense and they laid down that German steel production must be made available for European economy, though it was known that 10,700,000 tons of steel were necessary for Germany itself. if we are hoping that Germany will be rebuilt quickly, we must leave in Germany more productive capacity than is contemplated in the 1946 level of industry plan and let her export as well.

I can never get any answer to all this from the Government, and all I ask is that these points should be looked into. I know that steel magnates from this country and America have in recent weeks been roving round the Ruhr in special trains. What their decisions are I do not know, for I am not on sufficiently friendly terms with them to find out for a certainty, but no doubt those decisions will come my way in due course. They have been there for a reason entirely different from mine, but I need not go into that now. I know the effect it has had in Germany. They are saying there, "Thank God some of the productive capacity to be scrapped will now be saved." I assure my hon. Friend that if he really means that there should be sense in his assurance or in the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the question of rebuilding Europe, the Government must raise the level of steel production above the 10,700,000 mark to at least 13½ million tons a year. The sooner that is done the better. Now that the attitude of Mr. Hoffman and others has begun to change, we may get a lead on that question from the other side of the Atlantic.

In conclusion, let me tell he House what was said by a German friend of mine—if I may so call him. I have no German friends dating from before the war—only those whom I have come to know since the war. This is a man who has striven very hard for friendly relations between the two countries. He sent me a letter dated 18th September. in which he said: Many Germans, who, like myself, are constantly busy building bridges between the two countries, are now at a loss to understand this dismantling policy and are afraid that it will discourage the most definite friends of England. The policy is having a most deplorable effect. If I might give one word of advice to the Under-Secretary of State—I have seldom dared to give advice to people who occupy the Government Front Bench—it would be to say that the short but expeditious way of arriving at the end desired by me—and I believe the Under-Secretary of State in his heart really desires it, too—would be to sack the whole lot of the R.D. and R. boys.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

Despite the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), I do not really think there is much difference of opinion or of principle between himself and His Majesty's Government upon the whole question of dismantling. We are not arguing here about the principles involved. We have accepted, as I think he would accept, that the interests of economic recovery in Europe are over-riding in this question of dismantling. We have never taken any other view and we have held it for a very long time. If it can be shown that any plant can contribute more to E.R.P. by remaining in Germany than it would contribute in the recipient country, we have always been ready to re-examine the question in the light of this consideration.

What is between us, in spite of the vehemence of my hon. Friend, is not a matter of principle. We realise plainly the points he made about the importance of Germany's recovery. It is a question of interpretation and of fact as to whether this or that plant falls into the category I have mentioned. Therefore, so much of his tirade against the alleged stupidity and blindness of the Government is not on a point of principle but is concerned with individual plants and necessities. He produced a series of individual cases, which is reasonable, and tried to show that the Government had made mistakes. I maintain, on the contrary, that in each of the cases he has raised our decision has been a right one.

I should have liked him to be much more specific about his figures for excavators. When I challenged him to explain himself he carefully avoided a straight reply.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

The position is, first that the level of production of excavators is a matter for the Germans themselves to decide. Within this 10.7 million tons of steel, in the sub-division of industry which includes excavators, dredgers and building and road construction machinery, they have the right to make their own allocation and to decide their own production level. My hon. Friend has constantly urged us to throw responsibility on the Germans. When we do this, and when they take a decision which my hon. Friend believes to be wrong, the Government are blamed.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

My hon. Friend would not allow me to interrupt him, and he left me with very little time to reply. Perhaps he will allow me to go on. My first point is that the Germans have the right to decide their level of production of excavators. Secondly, within the capacity allowed they have power of choice. The position of the Germans is that they are comparatively generous towards the level of production of the excavator industry. Thirdly, the capacity which is to be retained is, as I have said, 37 per cent. over the output of 1936.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

The capacity to be retained is 137 per cent. of the 1936 output. My hon. Friend has got into a confused state of mind because he has not clearly distinguished between the capacity which is allowed to be retained and the annual output being achieved. He said that the output now is 50 per cent. of the 1936 output.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

Hon. Members who are interested can check up.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

I did not say that. My hon. Friend must give way. I said that the production at the moment was ridiculously low and that the productive capacity possible was only 50 per cent. of that of 1936.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

Accepting that my hon. Friend told us that the productive capacity possible is 50 per cent. of 1936, I have here the figures for the present capacity for excavators of the four main firms. There is Menck and Hambrock with 110, Demag with between 120 and 140, Hagenkamp with 24, and Nilsen and Korte with 24, making a total of 298 as the capacity. The present output is 161. That is the figure which my hon. Friend had in mind, and I think he mentioned the figure of 144. What he has confused is the present output compared with the present capacity, and that is our whole defence, or the main part of our defence, for the dismantling of plant which has surplus capacity. [Interruption.] If I am not clear, my hon. Friend should consider my own position when he is throwing out these very detailed points at a great speed. That is the essential point.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

Lord Henderson never mentioned two of those firms.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

My hon. Friend can look that up. I assure him that those facts are correct. That being so, I think his whole case on the subject of excavators falls to the ground. As a matter of fact, one of the main limitations on output at the moment is the limitation of demand, and the firm he mentioned with the greatest output today, which is Menck and Hambrock, could increase their output were there a demand for excavators. What is holding them back at the moment is demand.

I was not left long to reply to all the points of my hon. Friend, but I think I have shown to the House that the main part of his case is based on a complete misunderstanding. I hope the House will believe me when I say that, in spite of the vehemence of my hon. Friend and the facts and figures which he adduced in other parts of his speech relative to a building which was destroyed and relevant to the level of steel production, I think I can convince the House that the Government, although my hon. Friend suggested they were full of faults, are not so stupid or blind in their administration as he suggested. He said that 10.7 million tons of steel was far too small an output and he suggested that there was a prohibition on the export of steel. There is no prohibition on the export of steel from Germany.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

Within their 10.7 million tons production the Germans are perfectly free to export steel.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

Does my hon. Friend deny that it was laid down at Dusseldorf in October last year that there should be no export from the 10.7 million tons?

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

I deny that, as far as the occupation administration is concerned, there is any prohibition, but if the Germans have made a decision, that is a matter for the Germans, and I cannot be held responsible. My hon. Friend is one of the hon. Members who is most insistent on putting the responsibility for decisions of this kind on the Germans themselves. There is no prohibition on the export of steel; nor has there been any request, as he hinted, from Mr. Hoffman that the figure of 10.7 million tons should be raised. To reopen this question of the 10.7 million tons at the present time when production is at an annual rate of 6 million tons is to re-open all the political and security questions and the differences with our smaller allies and the French. My hon. Friend used the expression "They do not matter twopence." He should be at the Foreign Office and responsible for the conduct of our relations with the French Government and with the other members of the Western Union.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Norfolk Southern

It is a great sacrifice to make to deal with them in the very arbitrary and cavalier way with which I am afraid they might be dealt if my hon. Friend had his wish and found himself in a position of responsibility. I have not been able to deal with all his points. I know that the House appreciates the really deep and sincere interest which my hon. Friend takes in these questions, and we appreciate that what he has done in this matter is for the best, as he thinks, for the German people. I was glad to hear him declare his interest in the excavator industry. How refreshing it is to find a man with such an interest in the excavator industry in this country lending a helping hand to his competitors in Germany in contra-distinction to some of the allegations made against British businessmen in other contexts.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock, and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-nine Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.