HC Deb 26 February 1906 vol 152 cc781-3
MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid)

I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will state the number of persons employed in the flax industry in the United Kingdom for the year 1900 and subsequent years.

The hon. Member had also the following Questions on the Paper:—

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what has been the decrease per cent. in the number of flax-spinning factories and the number of spindles in the United Kingdom since the year 1870; what has been the increase per cent. of the importation of flax yarns into the United Kingdom from abroad during the same period; and what has been the loss of employment to British and Irish workpeople involved in these changes.

To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that in England the flax spinning industry has become nearly extinct, that in Scotland it has been reduced more than one-half during the past thirty years, and that in Ireland 200,000 spindles have been stopped since 1870; whether he has any official information showing that this decline is due to the high tariffs on British goods imposed by foreign countries; and whether he proposes to take any steps to arrest the further decay of this industry?

To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that in the United States the duty on plain linens imported is 35 per cent., while on manufactured and finished handkerchiefs the duty is 60 per cent., and if embroidered, 70 to 80 per cent.; whether he is aware that the effect of this discrimination has been to transfer works for hemstitching and finishing handkerchiefs from the North of Ireland to the United States; whether he is able to state the extent to which Irish labour has been displaced through the operation of these duties; and whether he has any remedy to suggest for this loss of an industry?


In 1901 there were 96,788 persons employed in flax factories in the United Kingdom. No figures are available for later years or for 1900. Since 1870 the number of flax spinning factories has fallen from 283 to 127 and the total spindles from 1,549,547 to 1,075,855. A Report issued by the Board of Trade in 1898 (Cd. 8794) indicates that Yorkshire was formerly an important seat of the flax industry, which has now been displaced largely owing to the growing demand or labour in better paid industries, such as woollen, worsted, and mining. In Scotland the number of spindles in the flax trade has declined by nearly one half since 1870, its place being taken by jute. The number of flax and jute spindles in Scotland has increased by 5 per cent. since 1870. In Ireland the decline of spindles in the flax trade since 1870 was only one quarter of that stated in the Question. Concurrently with the decline in flax spinning there has been in increase in the better paid trade of linen weaving, the number of power looms in the United Kingdom having increased since 1870 from 35,301 to 54,440. The change from spinning to weaving has been accompanied by a great increase in the imports of flax yarns (mainly coarse) which have risen in value from £54,000 in 1870 to £769,000 in 1905. The value of our exports, however (which consist of the finer yarns) amounted to £928,070 in 1905, and their level has been practically maintained for the last twenty years. There seems no reason to believe that the operation of foreign tariffs on yarns has been the principal cause of the changes which have taken place in this industry. The United States duties on linen manufactures are not correctly stated in the Question, but it is a fact that the difference between the American duties on plain linens and on finished and embroidered handkerchiefs has operated adversely to our export of the latter articles. Our total exports of linen manufactures have, however, been fully maintained during the past twenty years. No estimate of the effect on British and Irish labour of the importation of flax yarns or the operation of the American tariff on particular classes of manufactures would be of any value which did not take into account the broad changes which have taken place both in the industry as a whole and also in kindred trades.


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the cultivation of flax in the north of Ireland has decreased by 75 per cent. in about thirty years?


. I believe that is the case.


Is it not the fact that no Protectionist countries have succeeded in gaining any reduction in the American linen duties?


That is so, I believe.