HC Deb 16 June 1958 vol 589 cc667-8
30. Mr. Ridsdale

asked the Paymaster-General whether, with a view to preventing any increase in the price of household coal, he will allow reasonable imports of Polish coal.

Sir I. Horobin

No, Sir. The Governments' decision to end the statutory control of house coal supplies and prices is based on the industry's expectation that sufficient supplies of coal will be available without the need of imports.

Mr. Ridsdale

Is my hon. Friend aware that Polish coal suitable for household use can be imported and off-loaded into merchants' yards at £1 per ton cheaper than its British equivalent? In view of the fact that we are now ending coal rationing, could it not be possible to allow people freedom to trade both in exports and imports? I am sure it would help British shipping, and the householder and industry as well.

Sir I. Horobin

It would be the desire of all concerned to give our industry a chance to fulfil its expectations to provide the coal without our committing ourselves to any kind of decision about what might need to be done in the—I hope unlikely—event of the industry not being able to do what it hopes to do. We must bear in mind that a large part of this Polish coal is almost certainly dumped and that that raises problems of its own.

Mr. T. Williams

If Polish coal can be imported at £1 per ton cheaper than English-produced coal, how is it that we have been losing £10 million, £20 million or £30 million upon imported coal for so long?

Sir I. Horobin

I do not think that question arises. The figures arise from a relationship between export and import prices, which is a thing of the past.

Mr. Nabarro

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us on both sides of the House have been struggling for years since the end of the war to rid ourselves of dependence upon foreign coal? Will he therefore not resist every pressure to bring coal from Poland, America or anywhere else, but use our own coal to maximum advantage?

Sir I. Horobin

I have already said that if we can provide our own coal at the proper price and quality it is obvious common sense so to do. I do not think that I need to go beyond that.

32. Mr. Palmer

asked the Paymaster-General if, in view of the proposed ending of statutory control of the retail price of coal, he will withdraw the Ministerial letter of 5th February, 1954, and give the National Coal Board the same freedom in relation to price policy as exists for the other nationalised fuel industries.

Sir I. Horobin

No, Sir. Although the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, in their recent report, questioned the informality of the present arrangements, they approved their purpose. My noble Friend is considering the Committee's Report and will express his views in due course.

Mr. Palmer

Surely that statement is inaccurate and the Select Committee recommended that the present position should be ended as being unfair to the National Coal Board?

Sir I. Horobin

Nothing that I have said differs from that. The point at issue is that the Select Committee made a recommendation that one type of control, namely, the gentleman's agreement, should be replaced by direction. That is a recommendation of the Select Committee which, with other recommendations, my noble Friend is now carefully considering.