§ 55. Mr. HOUSTON
asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the fact that the price of coal, including freight and charges, delivered in Italian ports may be taken as 50s. 6d. per ton, while the cost of same to the Italian consumer is stated to be as high as £24 per ton; and, if so, whether he can take measures to inform the Italian public that the high prices of coal charged to consumers in Italy are not due to the prices received by British coal owners, or to freights received by the British shipowner, or to profits made by the British Government?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of SHIPPING (Sir L. Chiozza Money)
The Prime Minister has asked me to reply to this question, and I welcome the opportunity of amplifying the statement made in my reply to a question on this subject on the 20th instant. The figure of 50s. 6d. refers only to the cost of coal delivered in Italy in requisitioned ships, and, as previously stated, is exclusive of war risk, which represents at least as much again. The coal supplied to Italy under these conditions represents, however, less than one-half of the total quantity of the coal imported into Italy and is entirely used for Government purposes. The balance of coal imported into Italy is carried at market rates of freight, which, in the case of neutral vessels, are as high as 185s. per ton, inclusive of war risk. I understand 1639 that the amount of coal which is spared by the Italian Government for private consumption is not more than 25,000 tons per month, and that the fixed price charged for this is 215s. per ton, this price being, as will be seen, only 30s. above the cost of freight alone on neutral vessels. I have no information as to the cases in which, as alleged, coal has been retailed at the high figure of £24 per ton, but the statement can only refer to quite exceptional cases.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that much of the discontent and trouble in Italy, and the recent disaster on the Italian front, were largely due to the high prices of food and coal in Italy, and to enemy propaganda that these high prices are due to British profiteering? Would it not be in the interests of the Allies generally, and of Great Britain in particular if means were taken—
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I should like to be allowed to say, in view of the importance of the question, that while the hon. Gentleman is entitled to defend the British shipowner in this matter, it does not appear, from the information in possession of the Government, that there is ground for any reflection on the British Government, or the governments of the Allies.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Is it not the case that the German propagandist use of the higher prices must prejudice the British in the eyes of the Italians: is it, therefore, not the duty of the Government to make it clear that these high prices are not due to any British action—
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I can only say that I have made that abundantly clear in the answer I have given.