HC Deb 11 July 1922 vol 156 cc1057-61
Lieut.-Colonel HURST

I beg to move, That leave be given to introduce a Bill to provide for the collection of a contribution by spinners in the United Kingdom. This is a Bill which is of vital importance to the cotton trade, the object being to safeguard the continued supply of raw cotton available to the cotton trade by developing the resources of the Empire and of the Protectorates which are governed by the Empire. This Bill imposes an obligation upon cotton spinners in the United Kingdom, but that obligation is imposed upon them at their own request. Over 90 per cent. of the owners of spindles in this country are anxious, of their own free will, to pay a regular and standardised levy for the purpose of augmenting the funds at the disposal of the Empire Cotton-growing Corporation, and it is the desire of all the associations, whether of employers or employed, including the Liverpool and Manchester cotton associations and all the trade unions: identified with the cotton trade, that this obligation, which has been accepted voluntarily by the spinners, should receive Parliamentary sanction and be enforced by Act of Parliament. The origin of the Bill dates from last year. The Empire Cotton-growing Corporation was incorporated by Royal Charter on the 1st November, 1921, and the State is very largely represented on its administrative council and upon the board of trustees in whom its funds are vested. During the last financial year, the State contributed £978,000 odd for the put poses of the Corporation, which purposes involve the growth and cultivation of raw cotton, and that grant was made conditional upon a substantial contribution being made by the cotton-spinning industry itself towards the funds of the corporation. It is in order to fulfil its obligations to the Crown that this Bill has been introduced. There are only two important provisions in this Bill. The first is that on every purchase of cotton by a spinner a sum of 6d. for every 500 lbs. gross weight of cotton shall be contributed by the spinner towards the funds of the corporation. The second material provision in the Bill is to enable this levy to be collected through the agency of the Liverpool and Manchester cotton associations. The idea is that the amount of this levy shall be added to the invoice, and that when the spinner pays the bill, that should operate as a good discharge to him for his contribution towards the funds of the Empire Cotton-growing Corporation.

The House is well aware of the urgent necessity for developing the cotton supply available for this country. Since the War, the Egyptian cotton crop has materially diminished and is now only three-sevenths of what it was before 1914. At the same time, owing to diseases in the cotton crop in the United States, and owing to the vast increase in the demand for domestic consumption in the United States, the amount of American cotton available for Lancashire is very much less than it was before the War. This year it is expected that only 8,500,000 bales of American cotton will be available, as against the pre-War standard of 13,500,000 bales. While the existing cotton supplies are being curtailed in this way, there is an illimitable vista of cotton supplies in the Sudan, Tanganyika, and other Dominions under the British flag, and the vision of developing and bringing these new sources of cotton supply into existence to redeem the deficiencies of the old has caught the imagination of the cotton trade. This Bill is an attempt to give that vision practical accomplishment, and, as I say, it is supported by more than 90 per cent, of the spinners in this country. The only other point I should like to draw attention to is this. It may be asked why is not this burden left purely voluntary, for it is in its essence a voluntary effort? No help is asked from the State at all. It is a case of self-help, not of State help, but lest there be a few backsliders who wish to avoid a common burden while accepting the common benefit, it is desired to make this levy, which is voluntary in its origin, compulsory in its operation. I hope the House will acquiesce in the bringing forward of this Bill and that the Government will give ample facilities for its passage into law during the course of the present Session. Without involving any cost on the public, without involving any administration by the State in any way, Parliament, by enabling this Bill to pass into law, will be giving help to the greatest of our textile industries and placing it upon far surer and sounder foundations in the future than it is at the present time. That is the sole motive which lies behind this Bill, and, in my submission, that is ample justification for it. At the same time might I quite incidentally, remark that the passing of this Bill into law will bring nearer to realisation that long-cherished ideal of a self-sufficing Empire which ever since the days of Queen Elizabeth has inspired so many of the pioneers and pathfinders of Greater Britain.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY rose.


Does the hon. and gallant Member oppose the Bill?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Yes, I rise to oppose the Bill, and I shall very shortly explain why. If there be this shortage of cotton in view, as the President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce foreshadowed the other day, why on earth cannot the cotton spinners of Lancashire put their money, of which they have plenty, into companies and syndicates for the development of the magnificent cotton lands of the Empire.


Would you take advice from us?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Yes, I would certainly follow the hon. Member's advice in this if in no other matter. Here is a great opportunity for the merchant adventurers who, by their own initiative and boldness, have carried out these projects in the cast, to step in and do this excellent business, without introducing the dead hand of the Government and compulsion, which will destroy that initiative.

Lieut.-Colonel HURST

Perhaps I may remind the hon. and gallant Member that this Bill refers entirely to the contributions of the cotton spinners, and that nothing is to come out of his pocket.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Yes, I realise that fact, but it does not in any way reconcile me to the object of the Bill. Why should the cotton spinners of Lancashire, of all people, come here through the hon. and learned Member, if he does speak for them, and ask us to force them to contribute their own money to ensure their own supplies of cotton? The thing is absolutely absurd. Here we have control reduced to its last and most absurd extremity. The hon. and learned Gentleman talks about a shortage of cotton. If we pursue a decent land policy towards the natives of our cotton-growing dependencies—I am glad that a representative of the Colonial Office (Mr. Wood) is here—they will grow enough cotton to supply this deficiency. If we do not try and run them as hard slaves, but try and make them a self-supporting, land-owning peasantry, as we have done with regard to the copra and oil-producing lands of West Africa, they will grow and provide all the cotton needed without these artificial, compulsory, ridiculous powers for which the hon. and learned Member asks. I would like, if it were in order, to tell him to help the cotton spinners of Lancashire by helping us to oppose the Safeguarding of Industries Act. I hope it is not too late for him to learn wisdom on that subject from his own constituents. Apart from the Empire itself- -and I agree that we have magnificent cotton-growing lands in the Empire—there are vast cotton-growing lands in Turkistan that have been developed during the War owing to other supplies not being available, and these fertile districts east of the Caspian only want opening out to produce all the cotton necessary.

Captain ELLIOT

They are Bolshevists.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

As a matter of fact, they are fighting the Bolshevists at the present time. A previous idol of the hon. and learned Member, Enver Pasha, is against the Bolshevists, and I am sorry to say he is supported in a back-handed way by some of the hon. and learned Gentleman's friends in the Government. Here is a part of the world which has tremendous cotton-growing possibilities. If they are Bolshevists, they are only so because Moscow was a greater magnet to them than Whitehall. If only we open up trade in that part of the world and develop the great cotton-growing possibilities of these lands in addition to our own magnificent -territories, this Bill will be unnecessary. I am astonished that any hon. Member claiming to speak for Lancashire should ask for these petty-fogging, compulsory powers. They have plenty of money in Lancashire. They do not know where to find investments for it as the returns of our gilt-edged securities every week show. Do not let them come and ask us to spoonfeed them and to help them to bring their obstinate members to reason. This Bill would make us look perfectly ridiculous, would make the cotton spinners look even more ridiculous, and would make my hon. and gallant Friend look most ridiculous of all.

Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the collection of a contribution by spinners in the United Kingdom," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lieut.-Colonel Hurst, Sir William Barton, Mr. dynes, Sir Edmund Bartley-Denniss, Sir Thomas Robinson, Mr. Pennefather, Mr. Waddington, Mr. Thomas Shaw, Lieut.-Colonel Nall and Mr. James Bell.