HC Deb 22 June 1950 vol 476 cc1443-8
2. Major Fisher

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many standards of timber have been imported from Sweden this year; how many standards were imported from Sweden in the corresponding period last year; what have been the average yearly imports from Sweden since the war; and what further quantities are likely to be obtained this year from this source.

Mr. H. Wilson

I assume that the hon. Member refers to softwood and mining timber. Arrivals of softwood from Sweden in the first five months of 1949 were 35,000 standards and 45,000 standards in the same period of 1950. Arrivals of mining timber during the same periods of 1949 and 1950 were 51,500 standards and 52,200 standards respectively. Average annual arrivals of softwood from Sweden in the years 1946 to 1949 were 221,000 standards; the corresponding figure for mining timber is 67,000 standards. Further arrivals in 1950 from Sweden cannot be estimated until buying negotiations are completed.

Major Fisher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we could have obtained far larger supplies of timber from this source during this year, I believe up to 250,000 standards, if we had bought in December at the price then obtaining—a price which subsequently rose? Will the Government therefore cease making the shortage of timber an excuse for the lack of houses?

Mr. Wilson

The hon. and gallant Member will be aware that the amount of timber which has come into this country from Sweden this year has been unaffected by the negotiations to which he referred, because they relate to shipments later in the year. Of course, it is a fair answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that we certainly could get an increased amount of timber provided we were prepared to pay the price asked.

Colonel Stoddart-Scott

Are we paying more for Russian timber than for the purchases from Sweden?

Mr. Wilson

There is a Question later on the Order Paper about the Russian contract.

Mr. John Cooper

Is it not a fact that, through the medium of control, the price of softwood has been kept down?

Mr. Wilson

Yes, Sir.

5. Mr. M. Philips Price

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the fact that very little timber is coming into the country although the importing season is well advanced; and whether he can hold out any hope of agreements with Baltic countries including Russia for timber imports.

4. Mr. Marples

asked the President of the Board of Trade what are the results of the negotiations between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Timber Control; and what quantity of softwood can be expected in 1950, and in 1951.

21. Sir George Harvie-Watt

asked the President of the Board of Trade what prospect there is of increased timber supplies from Finland and Scandinavia this season; and whether he will state the terms and conditions of the agreement with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the export of softwood supplies to this country.

28. Wing-Commander Bullus

asked the President of the Board of Trade on what date this month was the contract for increased supplies of timber from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics signed in Moscow.

Mr. H. Wilson

As the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) was informed last Monday, substantial contracts have been placed in North America, Yugoslavia, France, Poland and in Finland where the Finnish Sawmillers' Association have a commitment to supply 225,000 standards of softwood, approximately the quantity received in 1949. A contract with Russia was signed on 13th June for 153,000 standards of softwood for shipment this year. In addition, the Russians have an option subject to mutual agreement on specification and shipment dates for a further 50,000 standards up to 15th July. A further Russian contract signed on 10th June will provide 65–75,000 fathoms of pitwood. Negotiations with individual shippers in Sweden and Norway continue; I have no doubt that further quantities will be purchased there, but it is impracticable at this stage to say what they will amount to. It is too early to anticipate supplies for 1951 from any of the sources I have named.

Mr. Philips Price

Does my right hon. Friend realise that we are all extremely grateful for the success of these negotiations and may I ask him, further, whether the contract with Russia for softwood timber is of a kind which will supply us with the type of timber we need for housing?

Mr. Wilson

I think it is generally agreed that timber from Russia is of the very highest quality and is much appreciated. It will include large quantities which would be suitable for joinery.

Sir G. Harvie-Watt

How does the price with Russia compare with the prices with Finland and Scandinavia generally?

Mr. Wilson

We do not usually give details of prices, but I can inform the hon. and learned Gentleman that the price being paid to Russia is lower than the price for Swedish timber.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

The Rule is to allow those who put down the Questions to have the first chance of asking supplementaries, and that is what I am now doing. Wing-Commander Bullus.

Wing-Commander Bullus

I understood the Minister to say that the contract with Russia was signed on 10th June. Is he aware that I asked his Department a Question on Tuesday last and that I found it somewhat discouraging to be told, in their reply, that there was no further information? I read the information 24 hours later in the Press.

Mr. Wilson

The simple explanation is that that answer was given to the hon. and gallant Member between 2.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. in the House and that the telegram from Moscow, giving details of what had occurred, was despatched from Moscow at 4.11 p.m. on the day in question.

Mr. Paton

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the total figure represented by all these contracts and say when the imports will begin to flow in?

Mr. Wilson

No, Sir. It would not be possible to give a total figure yet because, as I made clear, negotiations with shippers in Norway and Sweden are still continuing and there is also the question to be settled of how much timber we shall get from the dollar area.

Mr. Bossom

Would the Minister take this matter up with the Minister of Health and see whether the Government cannot increase the total of 200,000 houses which is to be the limit this year?

Mr. Wilson

On a number of occasions my right hon. Friend has explained the limiting factors with regard to houses. Timber is not the principal factor.

Major Guy Lloyd

Could the right hon. Gentleman explain, especially to this side of the House, why there was the triumphant giggle from the other side when he said that Russian prices happened to be cheaper?

Mr. Wilson

I suppose it was to compensate for the feeling of gloom on that side.

15. Mr. Watkinson

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has now secured adequate supplies of softwood timber to maintain the 1950 building programme.

16. Mr. Hurd

asked the President of the Board of Trade how much softwood has been purchased for the current season towards the total requirement of 1,500,000 standards; and if he is satisfied that supplies will be adequate in the next few months to meet the needs of the building trade.

23. Mr. Sutcliffe

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware of the difficulties arising from the reduced supplies of timber available during the early months of this year; and what arrangements are being made for a substantial increase for the next six months.

Mr. H. Wilson

Our programme of softwood imports for the year makes full allowance for all essential uses of timber, and I anticipate no hold-up in the building programme from the temporary low level of stocks during the next few weeks.

Mr. Watkinson

While I quite agree that, according to the statement the right hon. Gentleman has made, he might have secured these quantities of timber, may I ask if he could assure the House that the whole trade is in hand, and that, therefore, we can expect adequate quantities of timber to reach this country to enable the building programme to be kept going?

Mr. Wilson

Yes, Sir. The prospect of supplies of timber actually coming into the country in the second half of this year seem reasonably good. The present shortage of stocks is due to the slowing up in the rate of imports from the dollar area, because of the dollar difficulties last autumn.

Mr. Hurd

Can the Minister give the answer to my Question, which was how much softwood has been purchased for the current season towards the total requirement of 1,500,000 standards which was set by his own Departmental Committee—the Keith Price Committee?

Mr. Wilson

No, Sir. I could not at the moment answer that Question, because some of the timber has been allocated to us, but contracts have not been signed for it, particularly in the case of Finland.

Mr. Sutcliffe

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the arrears in the early months of this year will be overtaken, because in the Manchester district only 17 per cent. of the quota was received in the first four months of this year, as against 54 per cent. last year?

Mr. Wilson

We are hoping to get enough timber coming into the country next year to build up stocks to a reasonable level at their lowest point next summer.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

The President has implied that the 1,500,000 standards has not yet been reached. Is it not leaving it rather late, and will it not affect this year's building programme?

Mr. Wilson

The figure of 1,500,000 standards is an estimate made by a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Keith Price, but last year we got through on considerably lower figures, and the figure of 1,500,000 has not been accepted as the minimum requirement for this country next year.

Mr. Chetwynd

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether there was any significant drain on reserve stocks, or whether they are still adequate?

Mr. Wilson

During the last few weeks, the drain on the emergency reserve stocks has been very small indeed, and it suggests that the statements made in some quarters about a shortage of timber stocks have been somewhat exaggerated.

Mr. Speaker

May I remind the House—I had to do it yesterday, and I am doing it again now—that it is forbidden for an hon. Member to walk between another hon. Member and one of the two Front Benches, the first or the second, below the Gangway, when that hon. Member is on his feet. It happened yesterday, and again just now, and I draw the attention of the House to it; it is forbidden by our Rules, and I hope that the Rule will be observed carefully

Mr. Assheton

Would the Minister agree that there is a very considerable shortage of certain sizes and lengths of timber in very many parts of the country?

Mr. Wilson

The present level of stocks in the country is small—smaller than we intend it to be next year—and I have given the reasons for it. One of the results of having small total stocks is that supplies of particular sizes in particular areas are bound to be difficult.