Figures up to 31st March are not yet available, but for the 12 months ended 28th February, 1955, 4,235,000 tons of coal were imported, of which 935,000 tons were from the United States and Canada and 3,300,000 tons from other sources. The respective percentages were 22 and 78.
Is it not a fact that the import of this very large tonnage of coal from North American sources has again this year, as in previous years, led to a very considerable derangement of North American ocean freights? In those circumstances, cannot we avail ourselves more readily of surpluses of similar coals which exist in soft currency sources in Europe, both east and west of the Iron Curtain, and diminish the supplies from North America?
Currency considerations are amongst those affecting this question from whence coal is imported, but there are other questions such as the availability of required grades, prices and shipping facilities. There is an advantage in being able to bring in coal in big trans-Atlantic ships.
It is as yet too early to estimate the amount required to be imported during the next 12 months, but my right hon. Friend has no reason to think that the National Coal Board, who arrange the purchase and importation of coal in accordance with programmes agreed with the Government, will be unable to obtain the quantities necessary to supplement home output.
Does my hon. Friend's reply mean that he assumes that coal production in the United Kingdom is not going to rise during the next 12 months, and that, therefore, this figure of 10 million tons of imports will indeed be required before March, 1956?
I do not think my answer indicated that I was not anticipating an increase in coal production. I should not like to prophesy or publish any estimate of what imports will be necessary over the next 12 months for fear of prejudicing the Board's commercial negotiations.
Could not all these expensive complications so ardently desired by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) be avoided if we stopped exporting coal that we need in this country?