HC Deb 04 March 1947 vol 434 cc235-7
45. Mr. Walter Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the risk that the Government's coal target for 1947 of 200,000,000 tons will not be obtained, he will consider, with a view to early action, schemes for borrowing an emergency coal stock to be repaid in later years in coal, not cash, from the U.S.A., who have already shown their practical sympathy, with this country in their recent offer of coal shipments.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor) on 18th February.

Mr. Fletcher

May I ask the Prime Minister two questions; first, since during the coal Debate the chief spokesman for the Government continually asked for constructive suggestions to be made, does he not consider this cold—almost icy—shouldering of a constructive suggestion very reprehensible; second, is not any scheme, the essence of which is the obtaining of coal without coming down on the dollar fund, to be considered, and is he so certain of achieving his target that he can afford to put it aside?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member is quite mistaken in thinking there is any icy cold shouldering. The matter has been given very great consideration, and if he will study my reply he will see that we did not consider that we were justified in attempting to divert supplies of coal from America which were going to other European countries which need coal as much as we do.

Earl Winterton

Since we import many things from America which we need much less than coal, what is behind the Government's refusal? Are they afraid of letting it become known that we are not quite so dependent on the miners as some hon. Members opposite seem to think?

The Prime Minister

If the noble Lord had listened to my reply he would have seen that the reason was quite obvious. This is not the only country in the world suffering severely from a coal shortage. I pointed out that we were not justified in diverting coal which was going from the United States to countries in Europe which were quite as hard hit as we are.

Mr. Fletcher

May I ask the Prime Minister if he has not misunderstood the essence of this question, since there is no connection at all between borrowing coal and diverting it from the rest of Europe, and the scheme which I have suggested is one to borrow coal and to repay it in coal later on?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman must realise that however he phrases it it is a demand on the available coal.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Has not the whole thing been worked out in figures, and do we know exactly what America's surplus exports to countries in Europe are? Are they rationed, is there a system of priorities, and so on?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman must have heard many questions concerning the European Coal Organisation which arranges supplies for the countries in Europe.

Mr. De la Bère

It is that to which we object.

Mr. James Hudson

As the coal would have been diverted from places where it is very badly needed will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that there was very great satisfaction expressed in the country at the action he took?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a direct approach to the United States to find out whether they will send coal not only to the impoverished countries of Europe but to us as well?

Mr. Gallacher

Then we will give the noble Lord in exchange.

The Prime Minister

These matters are very fully considered by an organisation to which the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway objects, but which we think is a useful one for getting the coal to the areas which need it most.

Mr. Fletcher

I beg to give notice that in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.