asked the President of the Board of Trade how many standards of timber have been imported from Sweden this year; how many standards were imported from Sweden in the corresponding period last year; what have been the average yearly imports from Sweden since the war; and what further quantities are likely to be obtained this year from this source.
Mr. H. Wilson:
I assume that the hon. Member refers to softwood and mining timber. Arrivals of softwood from Sweden in the first five months of 1949 were 35,000 standards and 45,000 standards in the same period of 1950. Arrivals of mining timber during the same periods of 1949 and 1950 were 51,500 standards and 52,200 standards respectively. Average annual arrivals of softwood from Sweden in the years 1946 to 1949 were 221,000 standards; the corresponding figure for mining timber is 67,000 standards. Further arrivals in 1950 from Sweden cannot be estimated until buying negotiations are completed.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we could have obtained far larger supplies of timber from this source during this year, I believe up to 250,000 standards, if we had bought in December at the price then obtaining—a price which subsequently rose? Will the Government therefore cease making the shortage of timber an excuse for the lack of houses?
The hon. and gallant Member will be aware that the amount of timber which has come into this country from Sweden this year has been unaffected by the negotiations to which he referred, because they relate to shipments later in the year. Of course, it is a fair answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that we certainly could get an increased amount of timber provided we were prepared to pay the price asked.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the fact that very little timber is coming into the country although the importing season is well advanced; and whether he can hold out any hope of agreements with Baltic countries including Russia for timber imports.
asked the President of the Board of Trade what prospect there is of increased timber supplies from Finland and Scandinavia this season; and whether he will state the terms and conditions of the agreement with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the export of softwood supplies to this country.
Mr. H. Wilson:
As the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) was informed last Monday, substantial contracts have been placed in North America, Yugoslavia, France, Poland and in Finland where the Finnish Sawmillers' Association have a commitment to supply 225,000 standards of softwood, approximately the quantity received in 1949. A contract with Russia was signed on 13th June for 153,000 standards of softwood for shipment this year. In addition, the Russians have an option subject to mutual agreement on specification and shipment dates for a further 50,000 standards up to 15th July. A further Russian contract signed on 10th June will provide 65–75,000 fathoms of pitwood. Negotiations with individual shippers in Sweden and Norway continue; I have no doubt that further quantities will be purchased there, but it is impracticable at this stage to say what they will amount to. It is too early to anticipate supplies for 1951 from any of the sources I have named.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that we are all extremely grateful for the success of these negotiations and may I ask him, further, whether the contract with Russia for softwood timber is of a kind which will supply us with the type of timber we need for housing?
I understood the Minister to say that the contract with Russia was signed on 10th June. Is he aware that I asked his Department a Question on Tuesday last and that I found it somewhat discouraging to be told, in their reply, that there was no further information? I read the information 24 hours later in the Press.
Could the right hon. Gentleman explain, especially to this side of the House, why there was the triumphant giggle from the other side when he said that Russian prices happened to be cheaper?
While I quite agree that, according to the statement the right hon. Gentleman has made, he might have secured these quantities of timber, may I ask if he could assure the House that the whole trade is in hand, and that, therefore, we can expect adequate quantities of timber to reach this country to enable the building programme to be kept going?
Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the arrears in the early months of this year will be overtaken, because in the Manchester district only 17 per cent. of the quota was received in the first four months of this year, as against 54 per cent. last year?
May I remind the House—I had to do it yesterday, and I am doing it again now—that it is forbidden for an hon. Member to walk between another hon. Member and one of the two Front Benches, the first or the second, below the Gangway, when that hon. Member is on his feet. It happened yesterday, and again just now, and I draw the attention of the House to it; it is forbidden by our Rules, and I hope that the Rule will be observed carefully