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Metal (Government Purchases)

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 17 May 1949

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asked the Minister of Supply the total amount of hard currency expended by His Majesty's Government since the beginning of the present financial year to secure zinc, copper and lead; and if he will state a comparable figure if these materials had been secured at world prices ruling at the date of their delivery.

£4,693,382 was paid in hard currencies between 1st April and 7th May for metal previously ordered and mostly shipped in March and April. Since there was a steep fall in prices in these months this metal, if purchased at the date of delivery would have cost about 15 per cent. less. The necessary supplies for early delivery could not, however, have been assured in this way and moreover for some of this metal there must in any case he a time lag of several weeks between purchase and delivery. For these reasons any hypothetical cost comparison of this kind is wholly misleading.

Surely the Minister has made the very hypothetical comparison which he says he cannot make in the case of forward purchases. Would not he be able to give some indication as to how far his Ministry has committed this country to long-term contracts at prices above the world prices; and give the date when those contracts will run out, and further is this not the final proof that the London Metal Market ought to be reinstituted?

It is quite wrong to say that we are committed to long-term contracts. Most of our contracts are for about three months.

On that basis of three months, what is the total that the right hon. Gentleman will have to pay in hard currency over and above world prices if he had bought on a free market?

I cannot say what is going to happen in the future, the prices may fall or rise. I have answered the Question of the hon. and gallant Member as well as I can. Taking certain factors into account it would be round about 15 per cent. which may well be hypothetical.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that his mind is not closed to the re-opening of the metal market in London at the earliest possible moment?