Yes, Sir. I am satisfied that the need for continuing to import hardwood on Government account has ended, and all hardwood will therefore revert to private trading on 16th January next. At the same time, price control of imported hardwoods will be removed. Details of the scheme for reversion to private buying have been worked out by my officials with a committee of the hardwood trade and will be announced shortly. It will, moreover, be possible, as part of the additional measures of import relaxation which I have just announced, to permit any private trader to import hardwood freely from a wide range of countries.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that this relaxation will not lead to an increase in the price of hardwood, and is he taking steps to ensure that that will not be so?
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that sufficient supplies of hardwood under the proposed arrangement will be forthcoming to the furniture industry, and that there will not be an increase of price?
There is a big difference in the availability of hardwood and, secondly, in the proportion obtained from dollar sources. If I gave the hon. Gentleman a full account of the difficulties I have had with the hardwood trade, to make sure that when they were decontrolled they did not completely restrict competition by quotas among themselves, and also prevent new entrants coming in, he would realise the great difficulty I should have to face in the case of softwood.
There are a few types of speciality hardwoods essential for industrial use, and not available from other parts of the world, which have to be obtained from dollar countries, and will continue to be obtained from dollar countries.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's word "junk" in any sense, but arrangements have been made between the timber control and the trade for selling off the stocks at present in Government hands.
Yes, Sir, we are importing vastly more colonial hardwood now than we have ever done before—I think something like five times or more the amount we were getting before the war—from the major timber producing colonies.
We have been looking at it and there have been preliminary discussions with the trade. But there have been thrown up a number of tremendous difficulties, and until those difficulties have been overcome there can be no question of de-controlling softwood.