The Economic History of Steelmaking, 1867-1939: A Study in Competition

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter XVI
A NEW START

The National Government conferred its first boon upon the steel industry involuntarily by failing to save the Gold Standard. Thereafter sterling was for some time undervalued, discriminating in favour of exporters and against imports from the Continental steel centres. The tariff came more slowly. The General Election of 1931 favoured the return of protection. But there were faces to save and pledges which required delay. In December Lord Runciman repulsed the industry's demand for high duties, reminding the House of Commons that while 180,000 workers made steel 1,800,000 used it.1 In the spring of 1932, however, a protectionist policy was adopted, the detailed administration being based on the advice of an Import Duties Advisory Committee, among whose three members, by an odd irony (or was it subtlety of selection?) was Sir Sydney Chapman, who reviewed the Report of Chamberlain "Tariff Commission" in 1904 with so little sympathy. Its first recommendation was that duties of 33 ⅓ per cent should be placed on most grades of steel for a short period, their renewal being conditional upon reorganisation in the industry. The Committee's "case" for a tariff stood on two legs, a prosperous steel industry being deemed essential both for economic progress and national security. As for reorganisation, they wished to see machinery created to promote co-ordination and co-operation--both within the home industry and between it and its rivals--which would adjust capacity and prices to make the industry profitable, and would also lead directly and indirectly to the "maximum efficiency of production and distribution", viz. "the supply to the using industries of the right products at the right prices". Briefly, they aimed at national and international Kartells free from monopoly evils, plus some degree of national planning.2

____________________
1

The Times, Dec. 10, 1931.

2
Report of the Import Duties Advisory Committee on the Present Position and Future Prospects of the Iron and Steel Industry (referred to subsequently as Rep. I.D.A.C.), pp. 12-13; and Recommendations I.D.A.C. Cmd. 4066 and 4181 ( 1932).

-449-

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