HC Deb 03 August 1961 vol 645 cc1627-9
16. Mr. Rees

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has taken a decision on the application by the Steel Company of Wales for a licence to import coal from the United States of America.

Mr. Maudling

In consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, I have decided to refuse this application.

Mr. Rees

In view of that reply, may I ask my right hon. Friend to use his best endeavours and all his influence to ensure that the National Coal Board and the British Transport Commission get the right coal to the works of this company, which are so valuable to us, at the right time and at the right price? If they do not, will he review the situation?

Mr. Maudling

This is a difficult question. In deciding to refuse this application I did not pre-judge the future. To allow the private import of coal would be a major departure in policy, and I took the view that, when the new Chairman of the National Coal Board is looking at the progress of the Board's modernisation plans, it is too early to make a departure from the present arrangements. But I emphasise that I was dealing with a particular application.

Mr. Morris

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the delay in reaching this decision? Will there be an equal amount of stalling in future? Will he attempt to evaluate the loss of confidence suffered by the mining industry on each of these occasions?

Mr. Maudling

I do not see why the mining industry should suffer loss of confidence. There is tremendous demand for its product if it is produced at the right price.

Mr. Wise

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is some inconsistency in this between the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues to increase production by encouraging exports, and this effort to protect a particular industry, first by penal taxation of an alternative form of fuel, and secondly by total prohibition of imports?

Mr. Maudling

I do not think "penal taxation" is a fair description. Most of our industries have some form of tariff protection. My decision in this case was based not upon principle for the future but upon the fact that, while Lord Roberts, is looking at the position of the National Coal Board's development, it would be unwise to make what would be a major departure in policy.

Mr. Jay

Has the right hon. Gentleman received any application from this company for the import of cheap Russian oil?

Mr. Maudling

Not so far as I am aware, but I would like notice of that question.