HC Deb 15 June 1927 vol 207 cc986-9

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has made any representations to the French Government with regard to the embargo recently placed on imported coal, except that handled under French Government licence; and, if not, whether he has any statement to make?

53. Mr. BROWN

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department if he will make a statement as to the recent licence decree imposed by the French Government on- coal exported to that country, or if he can give any information to exporters and shippers of coal in this country as to the method of working the embargo; and whether his Department has received any representations on the subject, and, if so, from what bodies?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to give details of the decree imposing an embargo on coal imported into France; and whether he can assure the House that contracts held by South Wales shippers with French importers, including some two million tons with French railways, for delivery over the remainder of the year, will not be interfered with by any action the French Government may consider it proper to take in order to enforce the obligations arising from the provisions of the decree?

Mr. ARTHUR MICHAEL SAMUEL (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)

I have been asked to reply. I stated on Monday that His Majesty's Ambassador at Paris had made strong representations against the French coal decree. We have now learnt from the Embassy that the decree has been in force as from the 10th instant, but that licences are being issued; and that licences granted up to 13th June for deliveries of coal from the United Kingdom during June, July and August amount to 2,800,000 tons. This total comprises coal for all purposes, including railways and public works. His Majesty's Government are watching the position closely; and, should it appear that the operation of the decree will prejudice the British export trade, they will at once make further representations to -the French Government.


Can the hon. Member say whether or not any steps have been taken by his Department to secure details of the working of the embargo?


We have had official information only this morning. I will take note of the hon. Member's request, but we are not yet really in a position to say anything further than I have just reported about it. The embargo has been working only three or four days.


Is the hon. Member aware that, in his reply, he stated that there were two million tons of coal for which licences have been given? Can he state how much of that amount is for the railways?


The hon. Member is inaccurate in saying 2,00,000 tons. The amount is 2,800,000 tons, and the licences which have been given do include licences for railways and probably public utility purposes. We have not had an opportunity of analysing the licences, but when a few days have elapsed we may know more about the uses for which the coal is intended.


Is it not a fact that one of the reasons why the French Government have placed an embargo upon the import of coal is because the colliery owners of this country have been selling the coal at most ridiculous prices, and below cost?


Is the hon. Member aware that 2,000,000 tons of coal alone are due now, or will be due in a few months' time, to the French importers from the Welsh exporters, and can he say whether provision has been made that these contracts shall be carried into force?


We have information about licences for three months ahead for no less than 2,800,000 tons. It is too early yet to form any opinion as to what will happen after that date. We cannot say whether other licences will or will not be granted or what the tonnage will be. I would ask the hon. Member to postpone any further question to a later date, when we shall have more information.


Can the hon. Member say whether or not the licences for 2,800,000 tons are for all kinds of coal, and, if so, how can he say that in respect to the 2,000,000 tons of coal which have to be exported from South Wales, the contracts can be carried out?


The licences do include coal for railway purposes. There is no getting away from that fact, so far as we have ascertained.


Can the hon. Gentleman say how the amount of coal allowed by licence compares with the amount exported from this country to France during a similar period prior to the licences being brought into operation?


It is not very dissimilar.

54. Mr. BROWN

asked the Secretary for Mines which mining areas in this country will be affected by the recent French embargo on coal imports; if he will state the number of miners who will be unemployed proportionate to a decrease of every million tons of coal; and whether he has any information as to the closing of any pits in this country as a result of this licence decree and, if so, where they are situated?

The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane Fox)

The mining areas of this country which may be affected by the recent prohibition on the importation of coal into France, except under licence, are South Wales, Durham, Northumberland and, to a lesser degree, the Scottish and East Midland coalfields. As to possible unemployment I can only say that on the average nearly 4,000 mineworkers are employed for every million tons of coal produced per annum. The answer to the last part of the question is in the negative.


asked the Secretary for Mines whether, in view of the French coal embargo, the cut-throat competition that is taking place in the European coal markets, and the low standard of life prevailing throughout the European coalfields, he will recommend the advisability of calling a conference representative of coalowners, miners, and Governments in the countries concerned to consider such questions as the rationing of supplies, price-fixing, and the guaranteeing of maximum hours and minimum wages to the miners?

Colonel LANE FOX

In present circumstances, the conference suggested by the hon. Member would not, in my opinion, serve any useful purpose.