HC Deb 01 March 1951 vol 484 cc2268-71
10. Mr. Hurd

asked the President of the Board of Trade what profits his Department made on the resale of imported timber in 1948, 1949 and 1950; and how much of the total sum is being reserved to offset the higher market prices now ruling.

26. Mr. Marples

asked the President of the Board of Trade what profits the Timber Control made in the years 1948, 1949 and 1950.

Mr. H. Wilson

Trading accounts of the Timber Control are not compiled for calendar years. They are prepared for the year to 31st March, and are included in the annual publication "Trading Accounts and Balance Sheets" of Government Departments. The profits of the Timber Control, as shown by the published accounts for the years ended 31st March, were as follows: 1947–48, £3,901,744; 1948–49, £4,011,826; 1949–50, £8,875,938.

I estimate that some £2 million of the profit reserve accumulated by the Timber Control has been used to maintain the selling price of softwood at the levels fixed by the Imported Softwood Prices Order (SI 1950, No. 399) and the balance of post-war profits is maintained as a reserve for possible losses on continuing trading and on terminal stocks.

Mr. Hurd

Do we understand that the Minister is pursuing the prudent commercial policy of setting aside some of the surplus which has accumulated to meet present day very high costs of the softwood timber he is buying?

Mr. Wilson

I have been pursuing that prudent policy now for some three years, more particularly with regard to any possible losses when the price of timber falls.

Mr. Marples

Do the prices or Timber Control charges cover the cost of replacing stocks?

Mr. Wilson

I would ask the hon. Member to await the arrangements we are making to announce the new prices which are coming into effect.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Is the profit-making of the right hon. Gentleman's Department approved by the T.U.C.?

13. Mr. Hurd

asked the President of the Board of Trade what proportion of the current imports of softwood are purchased by his Department.

Mr. H. Wilson

Privately imported softwood did not begin to arrive in this country until 1st January and accounts for about 15 per cent. of total imports during that month, the remaining 85 per cent. being Government purchases. Government purchases will probably represent about 70 per cent. of our imports in the first half of the year, though the actual proportion will, of course, depend on contracts that may yet be made and the fulfilment of contracts already made both by Timber Control and private traders.

Mr. Hurd

When deciding the price level, will the right hon. Gentleman remember the very dominating influence that these purchases must have over the market and ensure that prices are kept at the most reasonable level?

Mr. Wilson

I will bear that in mind, but the hon. Member will recollect that private imports will account for a higher proportion when the freezing of the Baltic comes to an end next spring.

Mr. Keenan

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that his Department is able to safeguard the supplies of timber in this country so that someone does not get away with something for nothing, as has been thought to be the case for a long time?

Mr. Wilson

If my hon. Friend will give particulars of someone getting away with something for nothing in the timber trade, I shall be delighted to look into the matter.

Mr. Oakshoft

In view of the fact that Government imports will be far greater than those of the private trader, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be quite wrong to attribute to the private trader the rise in prices?

Mr. Wilson

I do not know why the hon. Member is so touchy. No one has talked about attributing the increase to the private trader.

18. Lady Tweedsmuir

asked the President of the Board of Trade what additional allocation of dollars has been made available to purchase timber from Canada; and what extra quantity is expected to be delivered in Britain this year.

Mr. H. Wilson

Dollars were allocated which enabled contracts for 490,000 standards of softwood to be placed in Canada in 1950, mainly for delivery this year. The corresponding figure for 1949 was 122,000 standards. I hope that arrivals of Canadian softwood during 1951 will be higher than in any year since the war. I am unable to say in advance what contracts will be placed in Canada this year.

Lady Tweedsmuir

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there will be no delay in the arrival of these shipments'? Is he not aware of the fact that a large amount of timber is waiting in Canada to be shipped, and that it cannot be done because shipping is being used for the transport of coal?

Mr. Wilson

I have already answered Questions about the delay; I have said that there has been some delay. I am glad.to be able to inform the noble Lady that shipping has now been chartered for practically all the timber which we have bought on the Pacific coast.

Mr. Nabarro

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how much of the 490,000 standards due for arrival this year will be for ordinary commercial and industrial distribution and how much for stockpiling?

Mr. Wilson

No. It is not possible to say that until I have a better idea of how much is being bought on private account in Europe.

27. Mr. Marples

asked the President of the Board of Trade when he is to announce the prices at which he is to sell to the timber trade the imported softwoods his Department has purchased.

Mr. H. Wilson

From today onwards, the new prices will be sent to timber traders who have signified their willingness to buy from Timber Control on the basis which has been approved.

Mr. Marples

Are the prices being charged greater or less than the replacement cost of the timber, and, if so, by how much?

Mr. Wilson

They are calculated on what is considered to be the normal market price of new timber coming into the country. I should not like to say how they compare with replacement costs in the markets, whether in North America or Europe, but they are supposed to average out on a fair market basis.

Miss Irene Ward

When announcing the new timber prices, would the right hon. Gentleman state how much of the increase is due to devaluation, so that the country can see what the position is?

Mr. Wilson

I am not sure what is the object of the hon. Lady. The increase in timber prices has been of the order of some 50 or 60 per cent. since September last. So far as I am aware, devaluation occurred 12 months before that.