British M. P. Declares That Continental Competition Makes Duty Necessary.
REGINALD CLARRY, M.P.
JUDGING by figures given by Reginald Clarry, M.P., in the English Review, the British iron and steel industry is in a parlous condition. Mr. Clarry tells us that last year, for the first time in Britain’s industrial history, imports exceeded exports by 206,000 tons. This divergence he attributes to the existence of a continental steel cartel which “allocates quota and subsidizes exports; consequently, the quotations for foreign products in England are generally lower than the selling price in the country of origin.” The industry is desirous that a small duty should be placed on iron and steel imports, to the end that the foreign producer might be made to contribute toward the extra cost the home manufacturer has to bear. Mr. Clarry continues:
“It is suggested that with the assurance of a greater and continuous production British selling costs could be further reduced: the economies obtained by an eighty per cent works or plant output over a sixty per cent or less output are obvious. The home consumer of the semi-finished and finished products would not necessarily be required to pay higher prices and should undoubtedly receive indirect advantages from the stabilizing of a great basic industry.
“Let us assume that such a duty is in operation, and the effect has been to restrict foreign imports to very nearly half their present level; and that, in consequence, an additional 2,000,000 tons of steel would be produced at home. The effect of this additional 2,000,000 tons of British production would be to employ 30,000 steel workers, 30,000 miners, (six million tons coal), or 60,000 additional men.
“Sixty thousand men would be earning wages instead of being a charge on public funds, which at seventy pounds per man (Government estimate) equals over £4, 000,000. This relief would be felt by every ratepayer and taxpayer in the country.
“We have heard ad nauseam that cheap foreign steel was essential to maintain our exports of finished products; but has this flood of imports shown a corresponding increase in our exports? When we turn to the figures, we find that although, year by year, there is an added increase in imports, our exports, contrary to expectations, have steadily decreased. ¿>o much for this short-sighted argument which does not take into consideration other factors: principally the one that we no longer dominate the world in the manufacture of steel products, whatever we may have done twenty-five years ago.
“Those people in this country (whether interested in industry or not) who, knowing the facts, are still antagonistic to this natural precaution for industrial selfpreservation, must be either blinded by political prejudice, or directly interested in the importation and sale of foreign steel products as merchants.
“Thé opposition of merchants is understandable; a man cannot be blamed for considering his own position, but it is hardly necessary to point out that as a nation we do not—and cannot—exist by the merchants’ activities. Indeed, it is obvious that the standard of our existence rests—and must be measured—by our industrial activities and prosperity. If the test of good government be to secure the greatest good for the greatest number, the objections from these quarters break down—the law of selfpreservation equally applies to the great majority. Some again are not interested in the importation of steel and iron products, but are prejudiced against safeguarding because of real or fancied fears, consequent upon protection of the home market, which in their minds outweigh the facts of the serious position the industry and the country are faced with.
“The attitude of organized labor within the steel industry itself toward safeguarding is difficult to understand. Certain trade union leaders propose to prohibit imports of steel into this country which have not been produced under conditions regarded as satisfactory by British trade unionists. While few would object to this alternative, such a measure, owing to the amount of investigation involved, would lead to endless friction and is entirely impracticable. Trade unions protect their members as regards conditions, hours and wages, and it is surely only reasonable that they should protect the continuity of work. I believe the workers themselves are entirely in favor of their jobs being safeguarded, and it is undoubtedly political prejudice that prevents a definite acceptance of the principle.
“The danger of reliance on foreign steel has been stressed in relation to industry in peace time; but what would be our
position in time of war? Steel is as essential as personnel: a crippled steel industry involves a crippled army and navy, and we should be facing an aggressive world without adequate means of selfdefence."
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