§ 56. Mr. WILKIE
asked the Financial Secretary to the War Office whether he is aware that the arrangement made whereby 1857 British flax merchants are prohibited from buying or selling Russian flax or tow is causing dissatisfaction amongst British merchants, many of whose businesses are being ruined in consequence; whether he is aware that although the leading flax spinners were consulted with regard to the scheme they disapproved of it, and that the flax merchants were not consulted and are unanimously opposed to the scheme; and whether further consideration will be given to the matter with a view to preventing unnecessary disaster to British merchants?
§ Mr. FORSTER
Towards the end of 1915 there was a serious shortage of Russian flax in this country, and for this reason the Department was unable to obtain the full amount of linen goods required for military purposes. In order to secure adequate supplies of Russian flax and so far as possible to prevent unreasonable inflation of prices, it was decided to centralise the purchase of Russian flax in the hands of the four largest firms in the trade acting as Government agents. This course was rendered all the more necessary by the importance of organising transit and shipment to and from the port of Archangel. The scheme was adopted on grounds of public policy and was elaborated in close consultation with the leading flax spinners and merchants. It is not correct to say that flax spinners and merchants are unanimously opposed to the scheme, though criticism has naturally been expressed by private interests adversely affected. The arrangements for dealing with next season's crop are not yet settled, and I shall be prepared to consider any representations that may be made on the subject before coming to a decision.