HL Deb 11 April 1946 vol 140 cc770-3

7.4 p.m.

LORD BARNBY asked His Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the dissatisfaction existing in the United States with regard to their policy on Dominion wool stocks, whether they are now prepared to publish in detail the information which would allay this, and when the Central Board of the foreshadowed joint organization will be put into authority.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting the question standing in my name, I would like to emphasize that it asks for a reply on two particular points. The first is the publication of information, and the other is the announcement of the establishment of a Central Board. Both of these points have been promised, and I now seek for an indication as to when we may expect that promise to be implemented. There are two angles to the question I have put. One is the administrative and diplomatic angle, and the other the commercial and practical angle. The former I am unable to assess, through lack of knowledge; but the latter is painfully apparent in commercial circles.

Since I first went to the United States, I have been in intimate contact with the wool policy there, and its wool textile industry, and I have watched closely the power of the Wool Lobby in Washington. This is not the moment to provide avoidable ammunition for criticism. The United States in the last five years have bought wool to the value of upwards of 500,000,000 dollars from the British Government—an appreciable contribution to the exchange. If marketing arrangements in New Zealand had been more expeditious and had more closely approached the efficiency in Australia, there would have been a still larger total in replacement of South American wool. And that would still further have helped our exchange. Momentarily, there is confusion among intending buyers in the United States. They experience great difficulty and delay in learning when, or whether, their orders will be executed. In brief, they feel that the British Government are juggling and discriminating; and as the biggest buyers they are incensed. Personally, I am satisfied from the assurances I have had from the Board of Trade that their suspicions are groundless. But I am equally satisfied that suspicion could all be quickly allayed by effective publication of information on available supplies of all types. Already, since the collapse of Germany, I have twice urged, in this House that full information should be given on stocks of raw materials. This has been supplemented by Sir Arthur Salter in another place as recently as February 20, when he urged full publication of information on food and raw materials. The result has followed, so far as food is concerned, in Command Paper No. 6785, but the information promised on raw materials is still awaited. I urge that this be now expedited.

In the case of wool, it has been indicated that as from August I last, the management of wool surpluses was to be taken over by a joint organization. This is not yet in action. This delay is ridiculous and harmful, no matter what the cause. I wish to record the avoidable harm that is being done. It is dangerous. Moreover, under the pressure of annoyance, criticism is reflected on Wool Control, which in its provision of wool products for the Forces has done such an outstanding job. Sir Harry Shackleton has been supported by a devoted band of able commercial men, who have supplied their technical knowledge to the benefit of the Government, and who have been assisted by most willing collaborators in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. They should be disengaged from this criticism. I would ask the indulgence of the House for having taken up more time than I had intended. Since I put this question down, additional information has come into my possession, and in view of the propriety of removing any avoidable criticism from Washington at the present moment of delicate loan negotiations, I have felt obliged to make a fuller explanation than I had intended.

Experience tells us that very often questions put in this House do not achieve a hopeful answer, and I am inclined to think I shall not get a definite reply to these two questions. I would urge my noble friend, if he is not able to give me a reply to the two questions which I put, to take steps to have the matter investigated. To summarize, therefore, my object, I repeat, is to seek an assurance from the Government that they will forthwith make available the fullest information on wool stocks, and also that they will without further delay put into authority the Central Board of the promised Joint Association, both of which I most strongly urge.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, I know the House will wish me to welcome the noble Lord back after his travels. In the circumstances he has not, of course, been able to give us very much notice, and he must forgive me, therefore, if my reply is not in all respects a final one. We are not aware of any dissatisfaction in informed quarters in the United States. I say that with respect to the noble Lord. And, of course, I would add that the Board of Trade, for which I speak in your Lordships' House, are only too pleased to welcome the noble Lord at any time within their gates and to listen to what he has to tell them. But we are not aware of any dissatisfaction in informed quarters in the United States on this matter. The report of the Conference between ourselves and the wool-growing Dominions was made public and communicated to the United States Government in August last. The Joint Wool Organization, which is expected to come into formal operation in a few weeks' time—I do not know whether that in formation is of interest to the noble Lord—


I hope it is done sooner than that; the matter is so urgent.


I take note of what the noble Lord has said. The Joint Wool Organization, which is expected to come into formal operation in a few weeks' time, is referred to in the wool programme prepared for the President by the interested agencies of the United States Government and published last month. This document points out: that it is to the advantage of wool growers in the United States to have wool prices stabilized in the major producing countries abroad, though it does also state that American growers are somewhat apprehensive lest the desire of the Joint Wool Organization to speed liquidation might result in undue pressure to sell in the United States. This document goes on to suggest that the Executive agencies in that country might approach other Governments with a view to mutual understanding and coordinated action, and we should of course be happy to consider any proposals so put forward. In the circumstances I hope the noble Lord will accept that as going as far as we can go today.