HC Deb 23 February 1953 vol 511 cc1697-8
1. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Materials what materials and commodities are still the subject of State trading by his Department; what was the aggregate value of stocks held in respect of these materials and commodities at the latest convenient date; to what extent such stocks are progressively being liquidated in favour of private traders' stocks; whether a time-table has now been established to end State trading in each of these materials and commodities and return the business to private traders; and when he estimates that his Department will be extinguished.

The Minister of Materials (Sir Arthur Salter)

In addition to selling the output of some Government-owned plants, my Department now imports and distributes copper, aluminium, magnesium, tungsten ore, jute and imported jute goods, and sulphur and pyrites. A similar exclusive responsibility is undertaken for soft hemp. Other hemps have been in private hands for some time. The aggregate value of the public trading stocks of all these commodities held at 31st December last was approximately £80 million. While public trading continues to be necessary, a general liquidation of stocks cannot be pursued as an independent operation.

It is the Government's policy to restore private trading as soon in each case as our balance of payments position and other important considerations permit. I hope that it will be possible to make further progress in this direction during the forthcoming financial year; but no precise time-table is possible.

As regards the last part of the Question, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Ministry has other important duties outside the sphere of State trading.

Mr. Nabarro

Is not this rather unsatisfactory? Has my right hon. Friend observed the curious habits of the Minister of Food, who is busily engaged in expurgating controls, eliminating his Department, and extinguishing himself, and would not my right hon. Friend have a little more enthusiasm towards these very worthy objectives?

Sir A. Salter

Within the last few months, we have returned to private trading zinc, lead and timber, which account for a considerable proportion of the total. We are actively examining each particular case where public trading remains.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the Minister please not take any notice of what his hon. Friends on the other side say? They are just talking a lot of nonsense.

Mr. Nabarro

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the elimination of State trading was one of the principal objectives of this Conservative Government when it took office?

Forward to