HC Deb 15 May 1918 vol 106 cc402-4

I now come to another control, and a very important one, exercised by the Board of Trade, and that is the control of cotton. I cannot myself recall to mind any great industry which has been more severely hit by the need of limiting our imports owing to inadequate shipping than that of the cotton industry of Lancashire. For some time now the amount of cotton imported into this country has not been more than, roundly, one-half of the pre-war imports, but obviously so substantial a reduction in the amount of cotton brought into this country must adversely affect a very considerable number of people. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that these restrictions, which have involved considerable sacrifices, have been made by employers and operatives in a magnificent spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice No other industry in the country has caused less trouble and less anxiety than the cotton industry of Lancashire. It has stood together, masters and men ant women, as a solid unit, and will, I believe, continue to deal with and solve it sown particular problems in the same spirit of loyalty and of co-operation. To those who are making these great sacrifices it must, I am sure, be a great source of satisfaction to know that while they are denying themselves cotton they are, on the other hand, providing ships which are bringing an increasing number of American soldiers to the Continent. I am sure that in determining which should be done, to bring over cotton or American soldiers to fight with us, the people of Lancashire would have no hesitancy in deciding that American soldiers should have the preference. This reduction in the import of cotton has required that the industry should be brought under some control. This was necessary in order to avoid stocks being seriously depleted, great inflation of prices, irregular working amongst the mills, and I think the scheme which we established, in consultation with the different interests concerned, has proved to be a real success. I think that the wisdom exercised by the members of this Control Board, composed, as it is, of representative owners, operatives, and merchants, has prevented what might have been otherwise a real catastrophe to this trade. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to prevent a certain amount of unemployment in this great trade, and to-day we have out of employment, roundly, 47,000 operatives. The Central Control Board have established a rota system, whereby operatives take their turn periodically for being out of work for a few days, and, during the time they are out of employment they are in receipt of an out-of-work wage, which is provided for by a system of levies established by the Cotton Control Board. It is to this fund that certain cotton operators make contributions. This levy fund, which has done so much in helping distress in Lancashire, has reached a total of something more than £1,000,000 sterling. There is another point I should like to mention in connection with cotton, and that is the action which has been taken recently by the Government in connection with the Egyptian Government which provides for the control of the whole of the Egyptian cotton. The necessity for a definite control was emphasised by the great uncertainty as regards price that was bound to arise owing to a fall in crop, and also to the reduced amount of shipping available for the transport of cotton from Egypt. We were naturally anxious that we should secure to the grower a fair price, and also that we should secure a reasonable price to the spinner and to our Allies. This control will, during its continuance, secure the direction of all the cotton exported from Egypt, and if this control continues when the War comes to an end, as I hope and believe it will, it will mean that at that time, at that critical period of reconstruction, we shall have the control of the destiny of this valuable raw material.

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