15 MARCH 1940, Page 2

The Italian Coal Question

The difference of opinion with Italy over deliveries of German coal has been cleared up so successfully that the situation has been left better than if the difficulty had never arisen. The thirteen coal-ships that were seized by the British contraband control have been released, and Italy on her part has undertaken that any ships still loading in Dutch ports shall leave in ballast, and that no more Italian ships shall be sent to Holland for coal. Two points need to be em- phasised. The settlement not only was not influenced by Herr von Ribbentrop's visit to Rome ; it had been reached before anything was known, at any rate in London, of the proposed visit. Secondly, there was a perfectly genuine misunder- standing about the time-limit for the sailing of the Italian ships, Italy having assumed, with some reason, that ships which had been detained in Dutch ports after loading by stress of weather would be allowed to sail even after March 1st. The decision to release the ships was fully justified, and has been well received both by the Italian Government and the Italian people. Broader questions regarding both our contraband control and a trade-agreement with Italy, the latter given added importance by the possibility of Italy's wanting to buy increased quantities of British coal, still remain to be discussed. The discussions will take place in a substantially improved atmosphere.