HC Deb 31 March 1958 vol 585 cc844-5
32. Mr. Hunter

asked the Paymaster-General, in view of the end of the winter season and the coal position in this country, if it is now the intention of Her Majesty's Government to resume coal exports; and if he will make a statement.

52. Mr. Neal

asked the Paymaster-General what is the total tonnage of coal exported during the present coal year; and what are his expectations for the next contracting period.

Sir I. Horobin

There has been no cessation of coal exports and about 5.1 million tons were exported during the first ten months of the current coal year. It is too early yet to say what level will be achieved in the forthcoming year. Increased quantities are available for export, but overseas demand is at present limited.

Mr. Hunter

In view of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary states that stocks are available, could he not suggest to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that this country could have an exchange with European countries in return for other goods? Surely there should be some way of exporting this coal in exchange for goods, which would help our balance of payments problem?

Sir I. Horobin

I do not think that is a very promising line of development. If the coal is available at a price which consumers on the Continent think is as good as that at which they can get it from anywhere and the quality is as good as they can get at that price, they will buy it without any complicated arrangements of that sort. Part of the trouble is, as other businesses have found in the past, that if one cannot satisfy one's consumers when they want something, one may find that when one wants to sell they have made arrangements to buy elsewhere.

Mr. Neal

Having mutilated the export trade to such disastrous proportions, can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us how long it will take for the Government to repair the damage they have done? In view particularly of the low freight rates across the Atlantic, can the hon. Gentleman tell us how long it will take to recover our traditional markets on the Continent?

Sir I. Horobin

That question is more typical of the hon. Gentleman's approach to these problems than a credit to his acquaintance with them. In fact, what happened last year and the year before, as anyone who knows anything about the coal trade is aware, is that at that time there was a coal shortage in this country and we could not afford to export a lot unless we could also import a lot at enormous expense to the National Coal Board, which would have had to be made up by increasing the price of coal still further. It is not a question of the Government having destroyed foreign markets. The coal was not there.