HC Deb 16 June 1932 vol 267 cc517-9
22 and 23. Mr. GEORGE HALL

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) the amount of coal supplied by this country to the Italian State railways under The Hague agreement during the years 1930 and 1931; the districts from which the coal was exported; the quantity from each district; and the orders placed for 1932;

(2) if he is aware that the Italian Government proposes to close down the Cardiff offices for the purchase of coal for the Italian State railways; and what steps are being taken by the Government to deal with this matter, which, if carried out, will injure the coal trade in South Wales?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the Italian Government has decided to discontinue the buying of Welsh coal for the State railways under the terms of The Hague agreement; that negotiations are proceeding with the United States Government for an arrangement under which the Italian. Government would take exclusively American coal in return for reciprocal trading advantages in American markets; and what steps the Government propose taking to deal with the situation?


Under The Hague Protocol of August, 1929, the Italian Government undertook, on behalf of the State railways, to purchase 1,000,000 tons of British coal yearly for three years as from November, 1929. 972,000 tons were shipped in 1930, and 830,000 tons contracted for in 1931. Owing, however, to a heavy accumulation of stocks by the railways in 1931, an amicable arrangement was made direct with the South Wales collieries (which are the only collieries concerned) to slow down deliveries, so that the 1931 contracts were completed only last week. With regard to 1932 and the outstanding balance of 1,200,000 tons, the South Wales collieries have been informed by the agent of the Italian State railways in Cardiff that the railways do not intend for the time being to buy any further British coal, again owing to the existence of heavy stocks, and I understand that in the meantime the staff of the Cardiff office is being reduced. His Majesty's Ambassador at Rome was at once instructed to inquire when the remaining orders to complete the undertaking in The Hague Protocol may be expected. This inquiry is still in progress. As regards the second part of the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. R. Evans), I have seen a reference in the Press to alleged negotiations between the Italian and American Governments, but I have no confirmation of this.


Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether this action is a result of the tariff policy of the Government?


The arrears spoken of here, in the years 1930 and 1931, could hardly have been attributable to that policy. It was when I was supporting the hon. Member in a Free Trade policy in this House.


I am simply quoting a newspaper which supports the present Government, and which definitely states that it is a policy of retaliation.


Is it not a fact that coal delivered in Italy from the United States costs less than coal sent there from the Welsh coalfields?


That is certainly a question that I could not answer without notice, but my own opinion would be that it would cost more.


Is it not a fact that the United States have a tariff?


I think it is a fact.