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Andrew Duncan

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Sir Andrew Rae Duncan (1884-1952)

1952 Obituary [1]

For many years, Sir Andrew Duncan took a prominent part in the industrial affairs of this country. His death, which occurred in London, on Sunday last, March 30th, following several weeks of illness, is deeply regretted.

Sir Andrew, who was sixty-seven, had been chairman of the executive committee of the British Iron and Steel Federation since 1935, except for the period 1940-45, when he served in the wartime Government as President of the Board of Trade and Minister of Supply.

Andrew Rae Duncan was born at Irvine, Scotland, in 1884. He was educated at Irvine Academy and at Glasgow University, where he graduated both in arts and law, and subsequently became a partner in a firm of solicitors in Glasgow.

In that profession, Andrew Duncan began to specialise in industrial affairs, which brought him into contact with a number of shipbuilding and engineering firms.

During the first world war Sir Andrew was appointed secretary to the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation, later on becoming secretary to the Shipping Controller's merchant shipbuilding advisory committee, and - when Sir Eric Geddes was First Lord of the Admiralty - joint secretary to the Admiralty Shipbuilding Council. Thus, as a young man, Sir Andrew acquired extensive experience as an industrial conciliator, experience which proved to be of great service in the many other important offices he held in the succeeding years of his career.

At the end of the first world war Sir Andrew was appointed coal controller in succession to Sir Evan Jones. It was a particularly difficult period in the history of the coal mining industry, as the change-over of the mines from wartime public control to private ownership was taking place. That task was successfully accomplished, under Sir Andrew's guidance, in 1921, the year in which he received his Knighthood.

A year earlier he had been called to the Bar, and was elected a Bencher of Gray's Inn ; he also, about the same time, became chairman of the newly formed advisory committee of the Coal Mines Department, and permanent vice-president of the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation.

In the years following the first world war Sir Andrew was called upon to serve on several commissions and inquiries. They included the dock strike inquiry early in 1924; the Royal Commission on National Health Insurance, which began its work in July of the same year; and the Royal Commission which investigated the coal industry of Nova Scotia in 1925. Sir Andrew was chairman of this last-named Commission and, whilst in Nova Scotia, received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Dalhousie University, Halifax.

Concurrently with the investigation of the coal industry in Nova Scotia, Sir Andrew presided over another Royal Commission which was set up to inquire into certain grievances of the Eastern Provinces of Canada. 'rho next important office which Sir Andrew was invited to take was the chairmanship of the Contra! Electricity Board, which was set up as a result of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1926. The function of the Board, it will be recalled, was to co-ordinate the generation and main transmission of electricity in this country.

The rapid progress made with the establishment of the grid system was in a large measure due to Sir Andrew's administrative ability and energy while chairman of the Board. He relinquished the chairmanship of the Central Electricity Board in 1934 to take up another responsible position, which was that. of independent chairman of the executive committee of the British Iron and Steel Federation. The Federation was charged by the Government of the time with the task of reorganising the steel industry.

Under Sir Andrew's direction, which - apart from the war years - has been continuous since the beginning of 1935, the Federation has indeed become a national organisation in the full sense of the term. When war came in 1939, the iron and steel industry found itself fully equipped to meet the heavy demands placed upon it.

At the beginning of the war Sir Andrew was appointed Controller of Iron and Steel under the Ministry of Supply. After a few months in that office he was invited by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, to become President of the Board of Trade, and throughout the whole of the war his services were retained in the Government.

When Mr. Churchill became Prime Minister, Sir Andrew was appointed Minister of Supply, returning in July, 1941, to the Board of Trade as President. He again became Minister of Supply in February, 1942, in which office he remained until 1945. From 1940 onwards Sir Andrew sat in Parliament as member for the City of London. He did not, however, seek re-election in 1950.

When the war ended, Sir Andrew resumed his duties with the British Iron and Steel Federation, which was then engaged upon the post-war plan for the reconstruction and modernisation of the steel industry. Again, his quick grasp of technical and financial details and his vast industrial experience were manifested, and the reconstruction programme, involving an estimated expenditure of £250,000,000, was accepted by the industry and the Government less than a year after the conclusion of hostilities. Despite the uncertainty about its future, there was no delay on the part of the steel industry in making a start on its reconstruction programme.

The Labour Government was intent upon the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry, and when the Bill for that purpose was introduced, Sir Andrew was the leading opposition speaker, a task for which he was well equipped. In putting forward the case against nationalisation, he was able to speak from an intimate knowledge of the organisation and operation of the industry.

In the five years in which he continued in Parliament after the war, Sir Andrew's principal speeches were concerned with the steel industry. That which he delivered, on November 17, 1948, during the debate on the second reading of the Iron and Steel Bill was indeed an masterly exposition of the case against nationalisation. In that speech, Sir Andrew claimed that there were no pressing difficulties known to the industry or raised by the Government which justified the adoption of a completely new organisation without regard to its possible damage. "If there were any need to discuss further development of public policy," he said, "there existed all the machinery with which to do it, for the steel industry was thoroughly organised to discuss and implement public policy." Sir Andrew concluded his contribution to the debate by urging that the technique of running great State organisations was a subject to which the Government must apply more research and gain more experience. There could be no justification, he asserted, "for venturing with confidence into a great new range of complex and complicated industrial activity".

Sir Andrew's participation in the activities of the British Iron and Steel Federation continued until the end of his life. Latterly, he had taken an energetic share of the work involved in furthering the industry's scrap campaign, which was initiated early last year. At the same time, there were many other concerns which benefited from his wise counsel and industrial experience. He was a director of Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., the Royal Exchange Assurance Company, Ltd., the North British Locomotive Company, Ltd., and the Dunlop Rubber Company, Ltd. From 1929 to 1940 he served as a director of the Bank of England.

Sir Andrew was one of H.M. Lieutenants for the City of London, and from 1939 to 1940 was High Sheriff of the County of London. He was created G.B.E. in 1938.

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