HL Deb 25 February 1953 vol 180 cc827-37

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, this Order, the Jewellery and Silverware Council (Dissolution) Order, is brought before your Lordships' House with a certain measure of regret. The purpose of this Order is to dissolve the Jewellery and Silverware Council which was set up some three or four years ago under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947. Your Lordships will remember that the general purpose of Councils set up under this Act is to help the industry concerned to increase its efficiency and productivity and to improve the service rendered to the community. The request to your Lordships' House to dissolve such a Council obviously requires a little explanation.

It has been my unfortunate lot to ask your Lordships once before to approve of such a dissolution—namely, that of the Clothing and Development Council, and perhaps I can save your Lordships' time by saying straight away that the form of the present Order follows precisely the form of the previous Order, and therefore no point on the technical side of it arises. The reason for the proposed abolition of this Council is all too simple. The Council, quite frankly, has not worked, and it shows no signs whatever of working in the future. It may be that the Council, in its original form, should not have been set up, in that to marry together jewellery and silverware—two trades which have never been particularly closely allied—was in itself asking for trouble. There has been really nothing but trouble all along. The trade associations have now completely failed to agree on the form of any continuing body or whether, indeed, such a body, or any body, should continue at all. This failure has occurred despite the most painstaking efforts by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade to achieve some unanimity. In the course of the past year, my right honourable friend and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary, have had no fewer than fifteen consultations with the various constituent bodies—that is to say, the two trade associations and the two trade unions—and with the Council itself. There have also been frequent consultations between officials at the Board of Trade.

Here, I should like to pay my tribute to the work which the Council has been able to achieve. The work has been quite useful. Unfortunately, I can put it no higher than that. It has been quite useful even though, of course, owing to the lack of wholehearted support from the industry, the potentialities of the Council never had time to develop fully. In particular, the Government regret the cessation of the grant paid through the Council to the Design and Research Centre. There may be some danger that the work of the Centre may be prejudiced by this, but that is not really within the scope of the Order. I should also like to pay my tribute to the individual members of the Council for the immense time and effort they have put into their work and for the efforts they have made, in the face of great opposition, to try to make their Council work satisfactorily. Especially should I like to thank them for the very invidious and thankless task they have had during the past year, because the Council's life runs normally for three years, after which the President of the Board of Trade is statutorily compelled by the Act to examine and reconsider the working of the Council. My right honourable friend asked the Council to carry on its work for another year in the hope of finding some means of getting the various parties together and some agreement as to the future of the Council. There has, I am sorry to say, been complete failure. There has been complete failure to find any common ground by which the work of this Council can be continued.

Here I wish to make the position of Her Majesty's Government perfectly clear. Her Majesty's Government deeply regret the failure that has occurred and would be only too willing to see any further Council, or other body, in any form, continued if there were the slightest chance of its working. I should like to impress upon your Lordships the insistence which Her Majesty's Government place upon the voluntary nature of that body and the need for it to command a major measure of support throughout all sections of the industry. It is essential that the body, if it is brought into action, should be supported by a substantial majority of the industry. The trade associations, however, most definitely do not want the present body to continue. The trade unions are more willing but they are not unanimous, and, of course, many of the craftsmen are not themselves in the trade unions. But even if the trade unions were completely unanimous and the associations not, there would still be nothing but trouble for a Council based upon lack of good will And lack of harmony, the very antithesis of everything that was ever intended in the working of these Councils.

Therefore, my Lords, Her Majesty's Government see no alternative at the moment but to ask your Lordships to approve the Order dissolving this Council. That does not mean, of course, that the Government will net continue to try to find some means of getting it on its feet once again; it does not mean that the Government will not offer every encouragement to the industry itself to work out its own plans for a new Council in some form. I would certainly not for one moment ask your Lordships to think that we propose to shut the door now. Nothing could be further from the truth. But while it is possible to bring jarring and discontented members of an industry to a conference table, it is not, of necessity, possible to get them to agree once they have been brought there. That is the situation in which the industry now finds itself. Nobody regrets it more than Her Majesty's Government.

Your Lordships will have seen recently in The Times newspaper correspondence on this subject, notably a letter from the Assay Master at Birmingham pointing out the gloomy future of this industry. Indeed, if I cast my mind back to the original Working Party's Report under which this Council was set up, there were the most gloomy forebodings recorded that the industry would definitely find itself in Queer Street unless some major reorganisation took place. That rather gloomy statement reinforces the need for a Council if it could be found possible to set it up, but with the best will in the world no solution at the moment presents itself. Therefore, we are asking that this Order should be approved. Although, of course, the Order goes, the powers of the industrial Organisation and Development Act remain. Her Majesty's Government's views upon development councils generally remain unchanged, and of course it remains open to the industry to come back at any time with some new agreed proposals, and nobody will welcome them more than Her Majesty's Government. I hope that, with those few words of explanation, the House will be prepared to approve this Order. I move,

Moved, That the Jewellery and Silverware Council (Dissolution) Order, 1953, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday the 11th instant, be approved.—(Lord Mancroft.)

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord for the full and fair way in which he has performed what must have been a most distasteful task. I suppose the noble Lord would agree with me that the silverware industry covered by this Development Council is one of the last of the great craft industries of this country. Yet it is an industry which is typical of many other British industries comprising a few large concerns, a few medium-sized concerns and a whole host of small concerns. There is a whole host of silverware and jewellery craftsmen working in the backrooms of their own establishments—none the worse, my Lords, for that. Nevertheless, it is a totally un-organised industry in the sense that we know industrial organisation in this country. That is all the more reason why it requires a foster mother or a Government Department to attempt, at least, to do something upon its behalf, in spite of all the circumstances.

I am given to understand—the noble Lord will know the facts perhaps better than I do—that only 48 per cent. of the employers are in any kind of organisation whatsoever. There is only one point over which I would differ from anything the noble Lord has said, and perhaps this is the real reason why this industrial council did not work—I must be careful that I do not give offence—that the top-hatted silverware merchants of Sheffield could not agree—and I deeply regret it—with the not quite so top-hatted jewellery manufacturers of Birmingham. The two organisations of employers in Sheffield represent only a minority of the employers, for Sheffield is not the power in this particular world that they would like people to believe. In point of fact, the amount of British silverware hall-marked in Birmingham, I am given to understand, is far higher than the amount of British silverware hall-marked in Sheffield. I think the amount in London is slightly less than it is in Birmingham.

Something must be done for this industry if we are going to preserve this great craft. I believe that the Government have here a very heavy responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has said that they are willing to do anything, but I rather think he discounted that statement somewhat in his final words by saying that they will do anything if this industry will come forward with a unified and acceptable plan. Now that has proved to be impossible, so the Government will have to think of something else. Perhaps the answer will be to separate silverware from jewellery. There are still many small manufacturers—craftsmen—who are really anxious to avail themselves of the best services that a Development Council or like organisation can render in regard to research, design and education.

I managed to obtain a copy of the last report of this Development Council. If I may digress for one moment, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether in future he could make arrangements for documents of this description to be laid in the Library of your Lordships' House. It was only by accident that I found that this document was to be laid in the Library of another place, and it is only through the courtesy of the librarian there that I have been allowed to borrow it and acquaint myself with the facts. That has prevented my saying many things that I might have said if I had not been so well-informed. While noble Lords opposite me may sometimes quarrel with my opinions or my deductions, they can hardly ever question my facts, as that is what I am always particularly careful about. I think it is a duty of any noble Lord who speaks in this House to acquaint himself with the facts. Therefore I hope the noble Lord will arrange for the reports of Development Councils, which under Statute have to be made every year, to be laid in the Library, so that noble Lords who wish to discuss these matters can do so with a reasonable amount of knowledge. This Report bears out everything the noble Lord has said, and there is in it one thing for which I am very grateful: that is, the tribute it pays to the efforts of his right honourable friend to find a modus vivendi for the future. There is another point that I should like to bring to the noble Lord's notice.


Before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I remind him that his Party was represented on the Special Orders Committee and knew about this Order? Presumably, they could have distributed it, if they thought fit. The noble Lord does not complain about being kept in ignorance of the Order, does he?


I was fully acquainted with the Order. The noble Lord has misunderstood me. I am not referring to the Order, but to the Annual Report and Accounts of the Development Council, which was laid in the Library of another place at the instigation of Lord Mancroft's right honourable friend. But the Report was not laid in the Library of your Lordships' House, which is just as much a House of Parliament as is another place, and I am only asking the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, whether, in future, he will see that documents of this description are laid in the Library of this House. I do not think that is an unreasonable request.

What is said in paragraph 12 of the Report only illustrates the tragic story told by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I think I am in possession of about the only available copy of this document. Paragraph 12 says this: … and despite an ever-increasing volume of technical inquiries and requests for assistance from members of the trade, critics of the Centre as an 'expensive luxury' again became vocal. That statement shows a promising demand for information. I would ask the noble Lord to redouble his efforts in this matter, because the amount of hallmarked silverware in the silverware industry of this country has declined from 1947 to 1952 by 65 per cent. In Birmingham, hallmarked silverware in 1947 amounted to 1,522,431 oz., and in 1952 it had fallen to 530,509 oz., a drop of 65 per cent. The same thing happened in Sheffield, and in London.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? Is that not largely due to the difference between the purchase tax on silverware and on tableware?


I think the noble Lord has made a good point. I believe he is right. The 100 per cent. purchase tax on silverware prevents any of us from buying silverware that we should like, the real craft silverware. Moreover, the import restrictions of other countries, and the export restrictions that we have imposed, have put this industry in this hopeless plight. That is all the more reason—the noble Lord will agree with me, I feel sure—why this industry should be brought together to try to remedy these defects because, unless it is, it will go out of existence.

I was greatly struck by a leading article in The Times of February 18. The article said this quite pertinently, and I think it hit the nail on the head: There is, moreover, the problem of how best to deal with a craft whose product ranges all the way from the work of art of high originality and merit to articles mass-produced and entirely derivative. There is a problem—a very great problem. But, after all, that is what Governments are for, to solve problems. That is what the Board of Trade are there for, to help to solve industry's problems. If all these problems were easy, the great brains that are possessed by the Ministers who go to the Board of Trade would not be necessary. After mentioning some of the difficulties which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has so fairly put before us, The Times article finished up by saying, referring to the abandoning of this Council: That, however, would be only a negative step, leaving the revival of a great craft still to be secured. Surely we cannot leave this matter there. I am told that it takes ten years to train a craftsmen in the silverware industry, and that the average age in many of these factories is now sixty years.

I make an appeal to the noble Lord. I do not intend to ask your Lordships to divide upon this Order: that would be asking your Lordships to go to an extreme that I do not intend. I do not even ask the noble Lord to take this Order back and have another look at it, because I agree with him that no progress will be made by pursuing the idea of a Development Council. Under Section 9 of the principal Act, however, the Board of Trade have all the powers they require to help this industry in research—both technical research and design research—and in education. They have powers to provide the money without there being a Development Council. I ask the noble Lord whether he will give your Lordships an assurance that he will do what he can. When the noble Lord brought before your Lordships' House an Order to dissolve the Clothing Industry Development Council we agreed to it because a voluntary organisation was to come into force. That voluntary organisation, I think the noble Lord will agree with me, in spite of its having been in existence for only a month or two, will be a success. It shows every sign of being a success. I shall be delighted if it is. Will not the noble Lord try with his right honourable friend to see whether something can be done in the present case?


My Lords, I should like to reinforce with a few words the appeal which has been male by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. With him, I pay tribute to the kindly, informative and understanding manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has presented this matter to the House. I accept fully what the noble Lord has said in regard to the efforts of the right honourable gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, and his Parliamentary Secretary. I hope that I shall not be striking too controversial a note if I say that this unfortunate story of the Development Council is one of the unhappy Tory chickens coming home to roost. The Tory Party cannot in their propaganda talk about "setting the people, free," about "all the evils of governmental interference," the "value of individual enterprise" and so on, without a thoroughly individualistic body of people like the silverware manufacturers taking the Government at their word. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, thinks that some of these people do not watch the statements made by politicians, but I can assure him that a thoroughly individualistic body of men like those employers—I know them in Sheffield—do take account of the mental climate which has been engendered by the presence in office of the present Government.

Yesterday, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, chided me for going a long way back, a somewhat strange reproach from a Conservative member, because from my reading of Burke and Disraeli I learned, however imperfectly, to value tradition and respect experience, as against the somewhat doctrinaire views of my Liberal friends. I hope, therefore, I shall not again be chided for going back to the past if I venture to suggest to the House that the working conditions, at least in the silverware industry, are simply a hangover from pre-Industrial Revolution times. I should not be exaggerating if I were to say that some of the working conditions in the industry have not progressed since the days prior to 1760. I have been in some of the workshops in Sheffield which produce exquisite examples of craftsmanship, but where no one having any thought for animals would stable a horse or keep a pig. Such are the conditions in these workshops. I am not exaggerating when I say that the conditions are simply abominable.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, mentioned the Working Party Report on the jewellery and silverware industries. I should like to read a short extract from that Report, emphasising what I have said in regard to the working conditions in the silverware industry. At the top of page 23, the Report says: Working conditions are seldom satisfactory. There is overhead belting in the majority of workrooms, and a great many of them have no ceilings; exposed rafters and belting arrangements alike harbour the dust and dirt. Lighting arrangements are inadequate and ventilation is very poor, since the admission of any fresh air usually causes a draught. Windows are commonly small and often cannot be opened, so that on the upper floors they cannot be cleaned outside. Any effort for cleanliness is bound to be extremely laborious, and yet for many processes in this industry cleanliness is important and has a direct cash value. In sand-buffing shops it is not unusual to find the floors caked with resin and dust, well trodden in by the feet of the workmen. Walls also are uneven and difficult to keep clean. The insufficiency of space usually make it quite impossible to provide reasonable washing and sanitary accommodation, still less adequate cloakrooms and facilities for drying clothes on wet days. Even in the factories which have each a separate and self-contained building—there are forty of these in Sheffield out of a total of 103 buildings—some or all of these faults remain, especially the cramped working conditions and the awkward layouts. They were built when labour was cheap and no one dreamed of objecting to buildings which made necessary a great deal of man-handling of goods. Is the Government going to leave the industry to go along in this way? I agree that there is probably no alternative to repealing the Order. But, having done that, please do not leave an industry of this kind in such a chaotic state that young men and women, knowing of these conditions, will refuse to go into the industry. They are not going to submit to the conditions which workmen in the past have tolerated. When one looks at the pictures in this Report one can see that the majority of workers represented are men and women well past middle age. It is a craft which is dying out, simply and solely because of the crass individualism of the masters in the industry. I am sure the Government do not want entirely to lose this industry which has been a credit to us. Those of us who look at the silverware of the early days will know what great credit should be given, and what great joy comes from looking at some of the craftsmanship involved. If there is anything of beauty in our modern life, please try to solve this problem and get some sense into the heads of these people. Otherwise the industry will for all time disappear from this country.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, the night is getting on and I am going to say only one or two words in support of my noble friend. Lord Burden's facts are probably perfectly correct, but I think his diagnosis is utterly and entirely wrong. The reason why this trade is declining at a rapid rate is that the way of life which was exemplified by beautiful silver workings and so on is disappearing through heavy taxation in this country, and indeed in some others. Coupled with that, of course, there is the gigantic purchase tax on these articles. To say that the industry is declining through individualism is something with which I do not agree. Such trades as this flourish and thrive on individualism. Whether my noble friend will be able to achieve the creation of any form of research organisation on the lines asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I do not know: it might be quite a good idea. But it is taxation of the individual and on the article which is killing this trade, coupled with the fact that some of the best export markets are no longer open. As your Lordships know, very heavy shipments used to be sent to Brazil, but for this and other things Brazil has run up all over the world a very tidy bill which cannot be paid. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, appealed to the Government to act as foster-mother to this industry. The Government is the only foster-mother that I know of which takes the milk from the young, rather than provides it.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the sympathetic way in which you have received this Order. I will resist the temptation to follow certain noble Lords down most attractive by-ways that have been opened up, and will content myself by trying to answer the two questions which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has put to me. The first concerned the Annual Reports of the Development Council. Under Section 7 (4) of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947, an Annual Report is required to be laid simultaneously in both Houses of Parliament. I must confess that I was under the impression that it had been done. If it has not, then a technical error has occurred, and I will find out why. Certainly it should have been done, and, I am sorry that the error was not discovered before the noble Lord conducted his search. The noble Lord asked me for an assurance that the Board of Trade would do everything in their power to see that an attempt was made to get this Council on its feet again. I will give him the assurance most readily, without any reservation, that the Government will do everything in their power to assist this great industry on the right path again.

On Question, Motion agreed to.