HC Deb 29 May 1946 vol 423 cc1160-2
60 and 61. Mr. Hubbard

asked the Minister of Food (1) if he is aware that the linoleum industry is at present only receiving an amount of linseed oil equal to 13.88 per cent. of that imported into this country and only 38 per cent. of that used by the industry in 1938; that unless supplies are increased the industry will be unable to reinstate men returning from the Forces and that a large number of men at present employed in the industry will have to be dispensed with; and what steps he is taking to prevent this;

(2) if he is satisfied that supplies of linseed oil acquired under the present control method are being equitably divided as between one country and another.

65. Major Legge-Bourke

asked the Minister of Food whether our supplies of linseed oil are purchased from the Argentine through the Combined Food Board or on our own account; and what steps are being taken with the Argentine Government to ensure that prices are not raised owing to purchases by countries not represented on the Combined Food Board.

Mr. Strachey

Supplies of linseed oil are allocated between the various importing countries under the Combined Food Board. Under a unified purchasing plan the United Kingdom is responsible for buying in India and the United States for buying in Argentina. I am satisfied that the original allocation for 1946 was equitable, and gave this country its fair share. Nevertheless, the position is very serious because supplies have not come forward as was expected. This is partly because famine conditions have compelled the Indian Government to put a ban upon exports and partly because the negotiations for purchase in Argentina have been very prolonged.

I am aware that a Russian mission has been negotiating for the purchase of linseed or linseed oil in South America. So long as Russia is not a member of the Combined Food Board she has, of course, a perfect right to do this. I am informed that so far, however, they have not been able to obtain any substantial quantities of oil. Everything that can properly be done by us to bring negotiations in Argentina on behalf of the Combined Food Board to a satisfactory conclusion is being done.

The allocation of our restricted supplies of linseed oil between the various using industries, including the manufacturers of paint and linoleum, is made in consultation with the various Departments concerned, and I am well aware that we have not found it possible to give to some industries, including the linoleum industry more than a small part of their prewar quantity. Moreover, whatever may happen in Argentina, the supply of linseed oil must give cause for anxiety for some time to come, and we are at this moment in course of reviewing the allocations for all purposes.

Mr. Hubbard

Is the Minister aware that, while the allocation of linseed oil to this country is only 40 per cent. of the prewar requirements, the allocation to the linoleum industry in America is roughly 80 per cent., and will he make representations with a view to bringing about a redistribution of the available supply?

Major Legge-Bourke

Which industry is to have priority, the paint industry or the linoleum industry?

Mr. Strachey

There cannot be any absolute priorities in this matter; it is a question of sharing out what supplies are available, in the best interests of the nation.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Is the Minister aware that the increasing shortage of linseed oil is endangering the whole operation of the linoleum industry in Scotland, particularly the part from which I come, and that the people there are very much concerned about it?

Mr. Strachey

The hon. Gentleman may be assured that they are no more con- cerned about it than we are. It is a most serious situation. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard), we are, of course, making our needs known to the Combined Food Board as vigorously as we can.

Sir Frank Sanderson

Is the Minister satisfied that an economic price is being offered to the Argentine for linseed, and does he not consider that if we were to offer a price more comparable with that which Russia is prepared to pay, we should be able to secure greater and increasing quantities?

Mr. Strachey

There is, no doubt that great increases in price might improve the bargaining power of this country, but I ask hon. Members not to press the Government to increases in prices for our important imports. It is a most dangerous thing to do.

Mr. Churchill

It is still more dangerous not to get them.

Sir F. Sanderson

Is it not the case that linseed is available, and will go to the countries which are prepared to pay higher prices? If we need the linseed, should we not pay the price for it?

Mr. Strachey

It is not true in the case of most countries, because they are organised in the Combined Food Board, but in the case of the Argentine we are buying not merely for ourselves but for all the countries in the Combined Food Board.