HL Deb 16 May 1944 vol 131 cc787-9

LORD BARNBY asked His Majesty's Government whether in view of the statement made on the 5th April, and to avoid misleading conclusions from figures published in the United States if inaccurate, they will now publish accurate information on the stock pile of British Government owned wool lying in the United States. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the whole dry question of commercial statistics was discussed in this House on April 5 last, when emphasis was laid on the contention that the suppression of statistics was greater than could be justified on grounds of security. The noble Lord, Lord Templemore, in a very full statement, laid particular emphasis on the very proper need to avoid disclosure of information to the enemy, but, apart from that, he gave a good deal of information as to the guiding principles which governed decisions affecting the publication of this information. I gave instances, however, showing that the grounds of apprehension which were alleged did not exist, and in view of the unconvincing nature of the statement I implied that I would ask again. Since that date there has been a fuller publication of figures in the United States. These appear to support the contention that, since no question of any danger to security is involved, it is desirable that accurate information be now released by His Majesty's Government.

There can be no doubt that damage is being done by false deductions which are drawn. To put the matter in proper focus I would like to quote a statement of the Chairman of the Australian Wool Board, who is reported to have said that it may be contemplated that the end of the 1944–45 wool season may well see an accumulation of some 10,000,000 bales, of which 6,000,000 would be in Australia alone, and this would take no account of unshipped surpluses accumulated in South Africa and New Zealand. Taking Australia alone, on the basis of current issue prices, say £30 per bale, this represents an investment by the taxpayer of some £180,000,000. If say 2,000,000 bales only were added for other accumulations, there would be a total of £240,000,000. This represents property of the taxpayer. I quote these figures to show that the vigilance of Parliament is necessary in watching these matters. In normal times very complete and regular figures of wool stocks at origin are regularly issued by the Dominions concerned. These are now suppressed, doubtless at the request of His Majesty's Government. The whole procedure goes beyond any possible requirements on grounds of security. In the case of the stock pile owned by His Majesty's Government and held in the United States, to deny information here which is freely published in the United States tends to bring the whole procedure into derision.


My Lords, I must first apologize to my noble friend for the unavoidable absence of Lord Portal, who is engaged at an important meeting, and he has therefore asked me to reply to the question. Lord Barnby referred to the discussion which took place in this House on the 5th April, a discussion on commercial statistics generally. My noble friend on that occasion referred to two figures recording the stock piles held in the United States of America and said that the figures of the stock piles had been published in that country. I understand that there has been no official publication at all of the wool stock pile figures held in America, and that the reference to which my noble friend refers seems to be to a figure which was published by a private firm in the United States. The situation has not really altered, and my noble friend has come to the conclusion that it is still not desirable to disclose our stocks of raw material, whether they may be held in this country or overseas, and he regrets that he cannot make an exception in the present instance.


My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend for his answer and, with the permission of the House, to ask him to inquire more closely into the accuracy of the statement which he has made, because I have before me information from the United States which gives the exact figures, and this is a repetition of publication of these figures on previous occasions. It is on these grounds that I say that the Government's attitude brings the whole procedure into derision. I hope my noble friend will make the strongest representations in the appropriate quarters that it is regrettable that a course has been followed which is likely to endanger national assets owing to the false deductions drawn in the absence of correct figures.