§ Mr. BEN RILEY
I beg to move,That this House urges His Majesty's Government to take all practical measures for the reorganisation of the woollen textile industry in order to promote economic efficiency and prosperity.Before adducing arguments for the Motion, I should like to read A telegram which I have received from my colleague, the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Turner), who is seriously ill, having recently undergone an operation. I am sure hon. Members on all sides will wish for his speedy return to work. It reads:Regret being unable to second your Motion to-day. The woollen trade is more sick than I have known it in 60 years career as man and boy in the trade and am certain that it needs the aid of everybody to amalgamate their intelligence and powers to organise and restore it to anything in the nature of stability. All of us have many old notions to reconsider. Old policies and practices must disappear if they handicap this or any other industry. The aim of the industry should be to turn out goods and plentiful products and no country in the world with few exceptions has been able to equal or surpass us in our suitability for cloth production for climate, country, appearance and wear. I have no set notions but it may be well for the trade to gather together its best experts on all sides through its one-time superb joint industrial council, or in some other way, and try to arrive at some speedy report and recommendation.I am sure we are all glad to have that telegram from my hon. Friend.
2298 In submitting this Motion, I make no apology for bringing to the notice of the House the present condition of the woollen textile industry. It is one of the oldest industries of the country and one of its most important. There are engaged in it to-day approximately 250,000 work-people directly, and indirectly much larger numbers. Like many other industries, it has fallen on evil times, and, taking the latest figures, there are no fewer than 26 per cent. of the insured workers out of employment. There has also been a decrease in the volume of production since the War compared with the pre-War scale. There has also been a set-hack on the export side. Since 1918 no fewer than 476 firms have been closed down, and considerable numbers of the firms that are still going are suffering from severe financial stringency and difficulty. I submit that those are particular reasons for calling public attention to the matter.
The industry is almost exclusively confined to the West Riding of Yorkshire, in an area which comprises Bradford, Leeds, Huddersfield, Halifax and the surrounding districts, Colne Valley and Spen Valley. There are also a certain number of factories in Scotland and in the West of England. According to the census report of 1921, there were 259,000 employed, of whom 139,000 were in the woollen section and 120,000 in the worsted, and, of the total, 206,000 were employed in the West Riding of Yorkshire. According to the "Labour Gazette," in 1923 there were registered for insurance purposes 269,000. In July of this year the number was 240,000, which, on the face of it, would indicate a decrease of 29,000, but the figures may be somewhat misleading because in 1923 they included all persons in the industry from 16 years of age upwards, whereas the figures for 1930 only give persons from 16 to 64 years of age. I understand that will account for A difference of about 10,000. Making that allowance, 20,000 persons fewer are now employed than was the case in 1921. That is the first outstanding fact.
The next fact of importance is the course of unemployment since the conclusion of the War. According to the "Labour Gazette" for October of this year, of the 240,000 insured persons, 59,000 are registered as being unem- 2299 ployed; in other words 26 per cent. It is interesting, in view of the proposals which have been put forward, and which may be put forward to-night by way of a remedy, to notice the course of the growth of unemployment since 1924. In that year, the percentage of unemployed was 7. In 1925 and 1926 we had abnormal circumstances. There was a dispute in the industry itself in 1925, entailing a stoppage for a number of weeks. In 1926 there was the General Strike. The figure of unemployment rose to 15 per cent. in 1925 and 16 per cent. in 1926. In 1927, when conditions had become somewhat abnormal, the figure was 9 per cent., in 1928 it rose to 12 per cent., in 1929 24 per cent., and in 1930 an average of 24 per cent. for the first three quarters of the year, while in the last quarter the percentage is 26 of the total number of persons employed. That presents a serious picture of the state of employment.
Side by side with the rising figures of unemployment there has been the closing down of a large number of factories during the last six or seven years. According to a report presented, I believe, to the Safeguarding Inquiry in 1929, from 1918 to 1924, 218 firms were closed down in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and from 1924 to 1929, a further 258 firms closed down, making a total of 467. It is high time that some action was taken to arrest this decay and to make some serious attempt to bring about some improvement.
What are the proposals that are put forward in that direction As I see them, there are three main proposals which have been so far advanced as a remedy for a situation the seriousness of which is not contested. In the first place, there is the proposal which is based on the assumption that the problem in the industry, the growth of unemployment and the closing down of factories, results from the importation of certain quantities of, generally speaking, cheap kinds of fabric against which the British textile manufacturer has so far been unable to compete, and, on that assumption, it is suggested that the line of solution is the imposition of a tariff, whereby the importation of these products should be prohibited and employment thus found for those who are out of work. There is 2300 also the contention on the part of the manufacturers that wages are too high. This contention was seriously put forward by the manufacturers when they appeared before the Macmillan Committee in January last. They said that there must either be a substantial reduction in wages or the industry must bleed to death. Another proposal is that a solution should be sought along the line of the reorganisation of the industry with a view to reducing costs and stimulating the demand for goods.
I propose to examine these respective proposals. With regard to the contention that the industry is suffering from excessive imports which it is not in a position to meet, I should like to call attention to the fact that between 1924 and 1930 the average import of foreign textiles has worked out at 35,000,000 yards per annum. The highest figure reached since 1924 was in 1928 when it was 38,000,000 yards. Last year it was 37,000,000 yards, and this year, for 10 months, it is 33,000,000 yards, and may possibly amount to 37,000,000 yards. It is clear, therefore, that for the last two years there has been no increase in the amount of imported textile cloths. It was only in 1926 that a substantial increase took place after the great decrease in imports in the early years after the War. With regard to the argument that it is these imports which affect the condition which brings about unemployment, one must remember that, whereas for the last six years imports of foreign cloth have averaged only 35,000,000 yards, in the five years before the outbreak of war—or to be more correct, from 1907 to 1912—the average annual imports of foreign cloth were 78,000,000 yards. These figures show that the pre-War imports, when there was not the amount of unemployment which we are now experiencing, were double the present imports. The Balfour Committee, in dealing with the industry, recognised that fact, and made the following statement, which is to be found in page 199 of the report:It may be said at once that any decline which has taken place in the home demand for British textiles is not primarily attributable in the Aggregate to the imports from abroad, since these are, on the whole, far below the level of the years immediately preceding the War.I want to reinforce that statement by quoting details from the report on the 2301 application for Safeguarding which came before the Safeguarding Committee in 1929. There is a table showing the relative positions of imported cloth and cloth produced in this country, firstly for the pre-War years, and secondly for the post-War years. It shows that in 1907 the amount of imported cloth was equal to 16.6 per cent. of the total production of cloth in this country. In 1928 the amount of imported cloth was only 9 per cent. of the production. It is therefore obvious that it is not the importation of cloth, which has diminished, which is the main cause of the situation with which the industry is faced at the present time. As a matter of fact, assuming that that was the problem which had to be met, one would have to remember that, if you could by means of a duty exclude the whole of the 35,000,000 yards of cloth and the manufacturers here could make the necessary amount of cloth to meet the demand for that type of cloth, the industry could not employ more than about 17,000 additional operatives. One does not object to an increase of 17,000 in the number of operatives employed, but it must be remembered that in October of this year 59,000 operatives were out of work. Therefore, if the whole of the imported cloth could be excluded the problem would still remain unsolved.
§ Mr. RILEY
To tissues only. There is a further argument which seems to be conclusive. Suppose that it were possible to exclude those imports, what would become of the 35,000,000 yards of cloth so excluded? It is not to he assumed that the foreign manufacturers would cease to produce such cloth. They would try and sell it elsewhere. If they could not sell it here, they would try and sell it elsewhere, and there would he very little doubt that the exclusion of the cloth by means of a tariff would accentuate the difficulties of an important part of this industry—the export trade. But, whereas we import an average of 35.000,000 yards a year, we exported last year 160,000,000 odd yards. It is in the export trade in which the real problem is centred.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the necessity for an increase of the export trade. Hon. Members will 2302 find that the question of the British exports of textile cloth is dealt with in the Macmillan Report. In 1924, it is stated, we exported from this country 232,000,000 square yards of textile yarn and worsted tissues; I hope hon. Members will mark the figures. In 1925, the total had diminished to 187,000,000 yards; in 1926, it was 169,000,000 yards; in 1927, it was 179,000,000 yards; in 1928, it was 178,000,000 yards; and in 1929, it was 163,000,000 yards. In other words, in those six years there was a loss to the export trade of 70,000,000 yards of cloth, comparing the figure with that of 1924. It is in that direction that we have to look for a real remedy. The contention that a remedy is to be found in the application of a duty in order to deal with imports, I submit, does not meet the situation. It must be obvious that if the 35,000,000 yards which now come into this country are excluded we shall have to compete against those 35,000,000 yards in the export markets to which we send our goods. If we cannot beat them in our own country, how can we possibly beat them a thousand miles away? Such a course would further endanger our export trade.
The second contention, putting on one side the question of a solution of the textile difficulties by means of the application of import duties, is that wages are too high, and that this fact is endangering our export trade. What are the facts with regard to wages? In 1920 the standard wage for a man in the wool and textile industry was 87s. 9d. per week—it is true that I am taking the peak year—and for a woman 53s. 9d. There has been a series of reductions since then amounting to something like 60 per cent., and today the standard wage for a man employed in the wool and textile industry is 49s. 9d. per week and for a woman 29s. 3d. Have not the workers made sacrifices? I do not see how they can be called upon to sacrifice any more. No hope is to be found in trying to seek a solution by means of a further reduction in wages. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of this year there was a reduction in wages of approximately 10 per cent. and still unemployment has risen to the highest figure it has ever been, from 14 per cent. last year to 26 per cent. for the last quarter.
§ Sir ALFRED LAW
Is not the hon. Member aware that 1919 and 1920 were very abnormal years, and that the cost of living was very much higher than it is now?
§ Mr. RILEY
I would remind the hon. Member that I said that 1920 was the peak year. I have given the figures relating to the peak year and the figures up-to-date, showing the changes which have taken place.
I now come to the third proposal which has been made for meeting these difficulties. The solution is not to be found along the line of import duties, because the general conditions of trade indicate that that would be no solution at all. You cannot pursue indefinitely the demand for a reduction of wages. Then what is the remedy? I suggest to the House that the line of solution which is becoming more and more recognised by an increasing number of those who are in the industry as promising, is to get down to the economic problem of the industry. It is a question of reorganisation. It is a question of b reorganisation in the direction of establishing units for the central buying of raw materials, in the direction of the unification of units of production in the industry, and of organising the central markets.
What are the facts of the case from the point of view of the present economic condition of the industry and of the size of the units in the industry? The industry has been run for very many years by very hard-headed people, individualistic in character and in attitude, and their units of organisation represent to a large extent that individual type of character. The textile industry to-day is managed very largely in the way it was managed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Nothing substantial has been done to meet the great changes which have taken place. I hear an hon. Member on my right dissent from that, but what are the facts? In the Balfour Committee's report, there is printed a very illuminating table as to the size of units in the textile industry. From this table hon. Members may learn that there are 1,384 separate firms employing 167,000 operatives. The total number of operatives in the industry within the West Riding area is, roughly, 2304 206,000, so that this total includes by far and away the major part of the operatives and the factories. The table says that in those 1,364 factories, which are typical of the industry, no less than 882 are factories employing less than 100 people, and 380 of those factories employ less than 20 people. It is quite true that of those 380, probably about 200 are small rag concerns in the Dewsbury and Batley areas. There are 280 firms which employ less than 200—between 100 to 200. There are 222 firms which employ from 200 up to 1,000 operatives, while only 14 firms out of 1,384 employ over 1,000 operatives. I submit that the trend of industry since the War, particularly in a highly technical industry like the textile industry, has been towards the elimination of small units and the amalgamation of larger units; the centralisation of buying on the one hand, of production on the other, and of marketing.
The Government would render great service to the industry if they would pay some attention to stimulating investigation into centralised co-operation on the buying side, the productive side, and the merchanting side. What is the position, for instance, on the buying side? Here is an industry which depends so much, and where the average firm in the industry depends so much, on the really economic buying of its raw materials, such as wool, dyes, and so on; yet it is so conducted that in those essential raw materials, which form something like 40 per cent. of the entire cost of production, scores of separate individuals are competing to buy in the same market from the same sellers. There is economic waste of their services, and the actual condition tends to increase the price which the vendor of raw materials is demanding from the buyer. That is not an economic method of carrying on the industry on the buying side. This also applies, in a technical sense, to the dyeing sections of the industry.
What I wish to say now does not apply to the worsted section, which is of a separate nature, but to the woollen side of the industry, which, roughly speaking, is the major half of the industry, at least in the Huddersfield and Colne Valley areas. The substantial firms involved have a dyeing plant attached to their manufacturing plant; it is a vertical pro- 2305 cess, taking the whole of the raw stage, and going right through. Each of the firms has to buy the dyes, and anyone who has been associated with the textile industry knows perfectly well that some mistake, some lack of knowledge in the selection of dyes for special sellers, may handicap the manufacturer and land him in all sorts of difficulties. Everyone knows that the danger occurs of orders being executed, being sent to the merchant, and then being returned because the articles are insufficiently dyed. In present circumstances very few of these separate plants can afford the cost of a competent. chemist, but where that can be done economies are made and efficiency results.
I will give the House one instance only. In my own area, and within my personal knowledge, there is a woollen factory of substantial size, where the proprietor had the public spirit to engage the best, or at least adequate chemical service, and, on his own statement, he saves a salary of something like £800 a year on the investigation of dyes supplied to his works which he would otherwise lose because of the fact that they would not be properly analysed and properly supplied to order. It is obvious that all the individual factories cannot avail themselves of this knowledge, and there amalgamation and centralisation of buying would give to all the users in the industry a better chance than now obtains.
I want to refer to another fact in regard to the selling side. Within the West Riding area, where the cloth itself is produced, there is a well-known factory for mass production employing some 8,000 operatives. It is common knowledge in the West Riding that any producer of cloth who can secure the orders for the mass production of clothing such as is required by a plant employing 8,000 operatives, has got work for its staff to go on with. What do they expect? I give it as a sample of the lack of centralised buying and the disadvantage to which the industry is put, because it has not the sense to combine on its selling side. In this case—and it is a sample of many cases—the buyer of cloth asks for prices from various producers of cloth in the West Riding; samples are sent in, firms concerned are invited to quote their prices, 2306 and one quotes against another, with the result that the manufacturers in the same industry and with the same interests are all competing against each other to get the order until the price is beaten down to the very bone. Would it not be far better for the industry to say, "Instead of this cut-throat competition, let us organise central marketing and eliminate unnecessary competition"? It is on those lines that there should come some solution, or an approach to a solution, of which there is no hope whatever in the direction of import duties or of seeking to reduce wages.
As a West Riding Member, I am encouraged in this by knowing that at present in the West Riding there is a receptive mind to the policy of applying to the textile industry the economies which alone can come from eliminating wasteful competition, uniting efficiency and adequate capital and so developing efficient management. In the last two or three years several conferences have been held to try to get. an agreement to carry out this policy. Only three weeks ago, an important conference was held in Leeds, at which a very important section of the woollen textile industry—the Come Valley section—were fully represented, to consider a proposal to unite the whole of the firms in that section of the industry. That is evidence that there is a receptive atmosphere towards this policy, and, if the Government, and Parliament as a whole would give encouragement to this tendency, it would he a step in the right direction. No one knows better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government that the men who are behind the textile industry of the West Riding are men of great individual characteristic's and very strong mind, and that they have resisted and will resist taking steps which I am sure ultimately they will be compelled to see are the only steps that they can take. What is required is that the atmosphere should be created to encourage every move that can be made to centralise industry and increase its economy and efficiency, in order that the demand for cloth may be increased.
§ Mr. LEACH
I beg to second the Motion.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. B. Riley) has painted a very dark and dole- 2307 ful picture of the conditions in the woollen textile industry, with which I have been associated for some 40 years. It is an ancient and honourable industry, large fortunes have been made in it, and it has also proved the graveyard of many financial hopes. The hon. Member referred to the textile trader as a man of strong nature and strong will, and rather stubborn in character. I have found him to be distinctly mercurial; he is subject to violent fits of depression and, in corresponding days of prosperity, his whale effort in life seems to be to disguise any fraction of jubilation. He will never for a moment admit that he is doing well.
The textile trader of the West Riding has not a very good record in matters of public policy. Right from the beginning, when the Legislature attempted to improve the very bad conditions operating in the early stages of the textile industry of the West Riding, he fought tooth and nail to resist every improvement. Whether it was the curtailment of the labour of very young children, or the settling of the hours of women workers, or the fencing of dangerous machinery, or the obstruction of the right to fill the atmosphere with smoke, the textile trader was always on the wrong side. Fifty years 'ago, he frankly despised technical education. He himself was at that time largely uneducated, and he felt very little need for technical skill in his staff. But about that period a certain French menace grew up in the matter of a new form of dress goods, and the textile trader became alarmed. He did then one of the sensible things of his life by founding the first technical college in the city of Bradford. That provided the trade, for the first time, with a moderately efficient staff of designers and skilled workers, the menace developing from France was thereby successfully overcome, and the textile trade started an era of considerable prosperity. It is true that the textile trader still despises education. He bombards me, for instance, with resolutions from his chambers of commerce begging me to resist any increase in the school-leaving age.
Thirty years ago the textile trader universally was a Free Trader. He regarded the tariffists of those days as we nowadays regard the flat earth theory. During the War he developed 2308 the worst possible side. In the moment of the nation's extremity he tried what. he could to gain all the exorbitant profits by supplying its needs. It is true that he could not deliver the goods but he passionately resented all forms of Government control which were designed to supply those goods, and in 1919 he managed to secure the abolition of the last vestige of Government control of the industry. Then there began an orgy of profiteering which has resulted in an evil name attaching to the City of Bradford that it is only now beginning to get rid of. The wool textile trader is not public spirited. He boycotts the local councils. He will not take his share in the local government of his area. He is not very renowned as a contributor to charities, with a few honourable exceptions. I remember the first public combine in the wool textile industry of the West Riding.
There has not been in the wool textile trader much co-operative instinct, but that combine, the first of its kind, was established a generation ago in the wool combing department of the textile trade. There came to the City of Bradford an unscrupulous company promoter who offered very high prices to the owners of wool combing establishments, and they were tempted and fell. It was not the co-operative instinct that was at work; it was the acquisitive instinct. The flotation was duly made, and was followed by a very serious smash. Charges of fraud were made and the matter was taken to the courts. A number of Bradford men, trusted public men, were severely censored by Mr. Justice Swinfen Early. The Wool Combers Syndicate had to be reformed, and it was reformed on a much more moderately capitalised basis. Then there followed the syndication of the Bradford and District. Dyers. The prices paid were extravagant, but the very able men at the head of that syndicate led it to prosperity by the exercise of their skill and they succeeded after a while in overcoming the very serious handicap of initial over-capitalisation.
I have been looking at the local stockbrokers' records, and I can discover only nine or 10 public limited liability companies in the whole of the wool textile industry. Tentative efforts were made years ago to amalgamate the weaving 2309 departments of the West Riding, but all of them failed. The wool textile trader has not a cohesive frame of mind. He does not seem to have any use for amalgamations, and I think we may find in this fact one of the explanations for the prevailing depression, which the Mover of the Resolution has made so clear to us in the figures that he gave. The trade consists of multitudinous firms, mostly small ones, engaged in useless competition, minus any special knowledge of the markets or of the statistics which govern the industry. Statistics are not the forte of the wool textile trader. He objects either to the giving or the receiving of them. As an ilustration of that one need only go to the published monthly "Labour Gazette" which calls from the textile traders for returns of a statistical character as to their undertakings. Although these returns are entirely confidential, only about one-half of the traders take any trouble to fill in the forms.
The trade is infested with middlemen in all its varying branches. It possesses an excess of plant. It pays, as the Mover of the Resolution clearly proved, far too low wages. I note that in the November "Labour Gazette" the figures for 140,000 workers show a total weekly wage of £259,000 giving per head an average wage of 37s.
§ Mr. LEACH
They include the whole staff, not only juveniles but the managerial and the higher paid staff and the whole of the skilled members. We have to remember that it is only the best employers who fill in the forms. If the whole 100 per cent. of employers filled in the forms, the 37s. would undoubtedly be considerably less. The productive and artistic side of the wool textile industry has of late years considerably improved. T believe it is true to say that. the West, Riding products are ahead of any other in the world. Any Continental buyer would freely admit that, if the question were put to him.
There is no doubt that the War sapped the morale of the textile trader. In 1919–20 he was making fabulous profits during those boom years. His acquisitive instincts had the fullest play and he 2310 became positively greedy, but he also became a much worse business man. I do not know that we can attach over much blame to the textile traders in the remarkable situation which the years 1910–20 gave them. Every rule of competitive enterprise was turned upside down. Clients who had been in the habit of keeping up a lordly aloofness and superiority were now on their knees begging him to take their orders, never mind the price. All this unfitted the textile trader for the future years of adversity which unfortunately he had to experience. In 1919 he filled the streets of Bradford with his motor cars and Bradford came to have the dubious honour of being the city with the largest number of motor cars in relation to population in the whole of the country, not excluding London. Later on there came the slump.
The four years stoppage of exports during the War, which was, almost complete, cost the wool textile industry very dear. Foreign clients, deprived of their sources of cloth from Great Britain, had to make shift to find their own means of supplying themselves and those methods have persisted ever since. They are now doing that on a scale far greater than ever before. Foreign Governments and the Dominions Governments have fostered these new efforts of textile production on the part of their peoples and have increased their tariffs very heavily against the West Riding productions. The natural result of that is that exports have been steadily dwindling, both foreign and those to our relations in the Dominions, who are taking their own home production to a greater percentage than before notwithstanding the fact that this home production is a great, deal inferior to what they have been receiving from this nation. These circumstances are undoubtedly depressing but what is the textile trader doing in regard to them? I think he is showing that he has completely lost his nerve. He is not reorganising his forces; indeed, he is calling for help in three separate directions. For the first time in 150 years in a developed wool textile industry he is begging for tariffs. He has not explained to us how a system of tariffs is going to regain his lost exports.
In 1925 the manufacturers of the West Riding invited the trade unionists repre- 2311 senting their employés to join with them in an application for safeguarding certain of their products. They met with a refusal. They had to go alone, and they were turned down; and there can be no doubt that the trade union refusal to co-operate with them was a powerful factor in that turning down process. Then they adopted new tactics of a rather more subtle kind. They caused the suggestion to be broadcast that a 48 hours week, which is not statutory to this day, was imperative. They said that circumstances might arise in which they would be forced to go back to the 55½ hours week and then they put in an application for a wage reduction of 10 per cent. The cunning suggestion was made that a wage reduction was the sole alternative to tariffs on foreign imported cloth. Time was given for this cunning suggestion to sink into the minds of the trade unions in the textile area and then they were invited to a conference on wage reduction. Simultaneously with that invitation to a conference about wage reduction a second application for Safeguarding was contemplated and made known, and again the co-operation of the trade unions involved was invoked.
These kind of tactics had their effect. Without taking any plebescite the executive of the national association of unions in the textile trade decided by 15 to nine to co-operate with their employers in asking for a atriff on imported textiles. At once the dyer section of the employés, representing 5,000 workers, drew out of this co-operative effort and even the Bradford and District Trades Council, which consists of 89 branches, large numbers of which are textile branches, in a discussion on the whole matter on 20th December, 1928, repudiated utterly and completely any notion of co-operating for such a purpose, indeed, the principle of co-operation for securing safeguarding measures received only seven votes. This was rather a blow to those officials of the textile unions who had too hastily gone into this co-operative affair and they issued a statement in which they said that the sole issue was tariffs or lower wages. They have lower wages, and if we are not very careful they may get tariffs as well. The proceedings at the Board of Trade inquiry on the matter of Safeguarding which followed later re- 2312 duced the proposition to a ridiculously simple issue. All questions about the effect on the community, the exporting power of the nation, the effect on our access to foreign markets and possible retaliatory tariffs, as well as all questions affecting the rights of consumers were ruled out deliberately and frankly. The committee which was set up, and which reported in 1929, referring to these considerations which I have just mentioned as having been ruled out said:We fully recognise that questions of this order are reserved for the consideration of the authorities responsible for the final decision"—Presumably that is the Governmentand in any case the machinery of the present inquiry is not such as could be readily adapted for their elucidation. We only refer to them as illustrations of the view which we hold that the scope of our inquiry is necessarily restricted, and that therefore any finding at which we arrive cannot by itself be decisive either in favour of or against the imposition of a duty.If ever a committee advised a Government to turn down their recommendation in advance that committee did so. The committee were asked, broadly speaking, to find an answer to the question: "Would a duty on Continental dress goods benefit the West Riding?" The most amateur member of the trade, without calling for any evidence at all on the matter, would not have much hesitation in giving an affirmative answer to so plain and simple a question. Of course it would. The committee also found in reference to the Continental dress goods coming into the country, thatroughly 30 per cent. would on the average have to be added to the prices of the foreign articles to equal the British prices.So great a crime against the women of Great Britain was surely not to be ignored. They must be protected against such infernally low prices as that. The manufacturers asked for a 33⅓ per cent. tariff. They believed that it would do the trick and apparently, arithmetically, they were not far out, but the committee hesitated. Although they had made this clear statement about the goods from the Continent being 30 per cent. cheaper they finally settled on a recommendation in favour of a tariff of from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. but a very sensible Government turned down the recommendation.
§ Mr. LEACH
I will deal with Shipley directly. The second appeal for help made by the textile traders had reference to the burden which, they alleged, was represented by their rate charges. The late Government took notice of this plaint and rid them of 75 per cent. of their rate charges and the, West Riding textile traders had a sum saved to them in annual rate costs, of £750,000. It was estimated by their own experts that this represented 3 per cent. on production. Another point made by the committee is of considerable interest in relation to the question of whether the industry is in quite so bad a way as some people represent it to be. On page 8 of their report, paragraph 25, they make this observation:The aggregate yardage of retained imports of woollen and worsted tissues and the proportion of the home market supplied by ouch imports, give no indication of any abnormal growth. On the contrary, it is evident that the requirements of British consumers for woollen and worsted tissues, taken as a whole, are now being met in higher proportion by British manufacturers than was the case before the War. The figures of the ratio of retained imports to production show the same general trend.That statement is exactly in line with the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Dewsbury. It indicates that the foreigners' hold on the British home market was being steadily loosened at the very moment when Safeguarding was being asked for. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) referred to Shipley. In the West Riding textile area there are 11 constituencies which may be regarded as predominantly textile in their electorate, and they return 14 Members. There is Bradford which returns four Members, and the others, returning one Member each, are: Batley and Morley, Dewsbury, Elland, Halifax, Huddersfield, Keighley, Shipley, Sowerby, Spen Valley and Colne Valley. In the 1924 Election there were recorded for Safe-guarding candidates 166,137 votes, and for Free Trade candidates 453,470 votes. In other words, for every four votes cast for Safeguarding 11 were cast against it, and not one solitary Safeguarding candidate was elected. It is true that the recent by-election at Shipley has altered that state of affairs by one repre- 2314 sentative, but, even so, the figures which I have quoted and the percentage which have given are not materially affected. Even taking into account that by election there are about 11 votes for Free Trade against every four votes for Safeguarding.
The third direction in which the textile trader called for help has been referred to by the Mover of the Resolution. It was the direction of lower wages. This year he has achieved his purpose with a reduction all round of 9 per cent. Up to date that wage reduction has not helped him in the slightest degree. All three forms of help which he sought are bad. They have the effect of making other people pay for the textile trade depression and for the traders' own incapacity. Clearly, as the Mover of the Resolution has pointed out, Government action alone affords any hope of putting the textile trade back into that position which rightly it ought to occupy. The problem which the Government may some day have to tackle, I regard as coming under these heads: too low wages, excess of firms and plant, surplus middlemen, wasteful competition between those middlemen, and the lowered morale of the owners. I beg of the Government to examine the records of the War years when control existed and when there was set up in a very short space of time an amazingly efficient machine. It eliminated most of the evils with which the trade is now confronted and, if it had not done so, there is every reason to suppose that we should not have won the War. Why should there not be a Wool Board as there was during those War years, when we purchased all our supplies for the wool textile industry in bulk. I think we ought. to do so again. It was the crowning achievement of those years. I do not know of any other way in which we can eliminate waste, check speculation, steady prices and secure that cheapness of supply to which the trade is entitled. We ought to do all those thing.; again which we did during the War years.
I make no concealment of the fact that my goal for the wool textile industry is public ownership. I do not know of any other way to rationalise the wool textile trade. I think it is the only method of getting rid of wasteful competition, of 2315 the parasitic middleman, of excessive plant and of the tired, golfing and motoring owner. We are learning the lesson that the profit incentive is dangerous. The British Broadcasting Corporation, the Electricity Board, the London Docks and the Carlisle drink plan indicate to me the proper line of advance for reforming the textile industry. Presently we shall come on to the export trade. with public utility boards under public ownership governing the whole operation. Just as in 1917 we discovered that this trade has supremely competent people in it, we shall still find them with us and we shall pull them out once more, and set them to the job of organising the whole textile industry. The Government may not find it possible to attempt a solution on those lines, however, much as they may desire to do so, but I am perfectly satisfied that some other early Government will do it.
§ Mr. LOCKWOOD
In rising to make my maiden speech, I am sure that I can rely upon the assistance of the House in what is an ordeal for a beginner. My experience in politics is very little, and on that account perhaps I may plead for the help of the House even more, seeing that until a month before my return I had never made a political speech. However that may be, the one thing in connection with which I am most sincere and desire to be most helpful is the trade and industry of this country, particularly the trade and industry of the district from which I come and which I represent. Although my experience of politics may be little, for close upon 30 years I have worked most intimately, almost day and night, in connection with the particular industry of which we are speaking, and I hope—and it is a sincere wish of mine—that the information and the opinions that I express will be of some guidance and usefulness to those Members who do not know as much about the trade as some of us do.
I have listened to speeches from hon. Members representing industrial constituencies connected with our trade, and before I go on I should like to say this: I was able to appreciate the line of the argument of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. B. Riley), and to follow out what he wanted in the end, which was somewhat within the terms of this Motion. I was able to snake nothing whatever of 2316 the speech of the hon. Member for Central Bradford (>1r. Leach). On behalf of the people and the traders of the West Riding of Yorkshire, I immediately dissociate myself from all the deplorable sentiments which he expressed. He said that our manufacturers were neither philanthropists nor educationists; they were immoral—[Interruption.] He said that their moral had gone. I simply wish to make clear that I do not agree at all with that expression of opinion, because my experience of Bradford business men in the past has been that from these business men the majority of our civilian offices have been filled; but I leave that, and I come to the Motion.
I want to make another point clear at the outset. We on these benches are as solicitous for the welfare of the workers as hon. Members on the benches opposite, and, in considering a Motion of this kind, we are as desirous that nothing should be done to the detriment of our workers as they are. The most important matter to remedy in connection with this industry is unemployment. What is the position of this important industry? The number of insured persons in June, 1921, was 274,870. By August, 1930, that number had decreased to 239,030. That leaves us with a contraction in the industry of about 35,000. At the end of August, 1930, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury stated, 26 per cent. of the persons in the industry were unemployed, or a total of 63,566. I wish to state these figures again so that hon. Members will have them clearly before them after the digression of the previous speaker. We have, therefore, a contraction in the industry, by unemployment and by persons leaving the industry, of 99,406. If the persons engaged in the industry in June, 1921, were 224,000, it will he seen that there has been a contraction in one way or another of at least one-third. In Bradford alone 29,000 persons are unemployed, and in the constituency which I represent there are 8,000. In Bradford again, the number of looms which have gone out of action is one-third of the whole.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury has referred to the number of firms which have gone out of action by reason of liquidation, shortage of work, and one thing and another, and he has given what is not at all a gloomy picture of this industry. If we wish to get. an independent autho- 2317 rity as to the position of the industry—because apparently it does not seem to be admitted—we find it in a report which was issued in February, 1930, in which this statement appears:As a result of these inquiries, I have satisfied myself of the gravity of the financial position of the industry.It goes on to say:Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that, during the past five years, the financial position of the industry has become progressively worse, and has now reached a really critical stage.Again:In present circumstances, and upon its present basis, the industry is in a most unsatisfactory if not an actually dangerous position.Upon that we all agree, and we have to try to find a solution which will put this industry upon a proper basis. We on this side, as well as hon. Members opposite, are desirous of doing our best in this connection. Our methods may differ, though we may be equally sincere in our aims. What is the position on the industrial side? Our exports have decreased to the alarming extent which has been described, and our imports have increased to an alarming extent, rising from 8,000,000 square yards in 1920 to 33,000,000 square yards. In contrast with that, Continental exports have not decreased but have risen. They have risen from 118,000,000 square yards in 1924 to 129,000,000 in 1930. The textile goods we import from abroad are equal, in yardage, to the whole of our export trade with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. To put the position in another way, the imports into this country equal our exports to China, Japan and the United States. I give those instances to the House so that when attempts are made to decry the volume of the import trade hon. Members may visualise the position we have to face. I have listened to the speeches with great interest, but I happen to be actively connected with this trade in many of its branches, not only on the manufacturing side but on the exporting side, and my practical knowledge leads me to differ entirely from the conclusions of the hon. Members who have preceded me.
I have described the state of the industry. What has caused it? The cause, primarily, is our antiquated system of Free Trade, coupled, no doubt, with 2318 other factors, such as decreased consumption, an alteration in fashion, and one or two other matters of that kind; but, as before stated, the primary cause of the depression in this industry is our attachment, or the attachment of those at present in authority, to this antiquated system of Free Trade. In my view, and I speak as a practical man, there is no solution whatever for the distress in this trade except the protection of our home markets from the unfair and increasing foreign competition which assails us at the moment. The only other plan that can help us is to seek closer economic union with our own Colonies, in order to provide the expanding markets which we do not seem to find elsewhere.
Why is it necessary that our industry, if it is to continue, should receive some measure of Safeguarding'? Because we are afflicted with competition from abroad which we cannot hope to meet, and which we on this side of the House do not wish to have to meet, because to meet it would mean the lowering of the standard of life of the workers, which is the last thing we shall advocate. We have to meet the competition of goods, coming in from countries where wages are on the following scales: In France they pay 50 per cent. less in wages than we do, in Belgium 55 per cent., in Germany 80 per cent., and in Italy, Poland and Czechoslovakia 40 per cent. It is impossible for us to manufacture goods to be sold in a free and open market while paying our present wages when foreign goods manufactured on the wage basis which I have indicated are free to come into this country. In addition to that our manufacturers have a very much increased burden of taxation to bear, which also militates against our meeting foreign competition. Another reason for the present condition of the industry is that foreign. countries, which raise tariffs against our goods, are determined on no. account to permit us to send them goods which they can manufacture for themselves. I would draw the attention of the House to an interview with the hon. Member for Batley (Mr. B. Turner); we are sorry to hear he is ill and hope he will soo recover. After his visit to Czechoslovakia, he said:The Czechoslovenes are determined as far as possible to manufacture for them- 2319 selves all the commodities they require. In such circumstances the openings for Bradford, West Hiding or British goods are very, very limited.What is the good of talking about extending our markets in foreign countries if that is the spirit of those countries? While we are not raising tariffs against other countries, what is being done in the French Colonies? I have here a quotation from the "Yorkshire Post," which says that in French Indo-China they are submitting a proposal to in. crease the duties on textiles against us.
As to methods for remedying the present state of affairs, if those primarily concerned with the industry are of one opinion, why should we prevent the carrying out of what they know will improve the industry? Both employers and employed are equally emphatic that the remedy of Safeguarding should be applied. The report of the Safeguarding Committee in 1926 has been referred to. The application for Safeguarding for this industry was not granted then because it was said at that time that the unemployment was not of such a nature as to warrant Safeguarding. But take the 1929 report. Every question in the White Paper which it was necessary to answer in the affirmative in support of such an application was answered; and every criticism which has been raised by the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) was dealt with in that report. It was reported that the industry was efficient, that there was gross unemployment, and that there were coming into this country goods which had been made under rates of wages with which we could not compete. In fact, the whole series of questions was answered. That was a Government inquiry, and a recommendation was made in favour of the imposition of a duty, and I understand that if the late Government had continued in office a duty would have been granted. Unless something is said to the contrary in the course of this debate, the responsibility for not putting that recommendation into operation and relieving this distress must be regarded as the present Government's.
I will now refer to a report issued by the National Association of Unions in the Textile Trade. It has a membership of 151,900, and it refers to the particular remedies for relieving this industry. I should like to quote one or two passages 2320 from this report in order to give an unbiassed and true picture of the opinions of those interested in this industry. It says:During September, 1927. negotiations took place on the general wages agreement for the wool textile industry, and during the negotiations the trade unions submitted the following proposals to the employers.One was the possibilities of restoring trade by Safeguarding. Further, on they say:Not a single objection was laid against the proposal by any trade union affiliated to the Association.The report goes on to deal with the unemployment question and points out how serious it is, and says:The percentage figures of the trade union unemployed registering at the offices of the various unions largely exceed the official figures.We agree, of course, with that. The report goes on to state:The problem, therefore, was one that the unions had to face or follow the policy of inaction and allow the industry to languish.That is the question which is before us to-day in a more acute form than ever. The report goes on to say:In placing our views before you we must draw your attention to the fact that we started out convinced Free Traders brought up in that school, which made the task of adopting the role of impartial investigators extremely difficult ….We realised, however, that we had obligations to the people we represented …. We realised, however, that world conditions are constantly changing, and to make a fetish of a belief is wrong …. No longer can we claim to be the workshop of the world so far as textiles are concerned. Almost every country is producing and increasing their production year by year, thereby diminishing our foreign markets.Those are all very pertinent remarks, and the report goes on to say:In the places visited we were convinced that every effort was being made to capture the trade, yet imports were increasing year by year.I am reading the findings of the trade unions whose representatives reported to their own members. They say:Free Trade statements were submitted in evidence that the most up-to-date machinery was to be found in the industry coupled with efficient staffs, but in spite of these advantages, it was affirmed that on cloths up to 6s. per yard it was impossible to compete with foreign imported goods.They further state: 2321As a committee, we submit that Safe-guarding, whilst not the ultimate remedy, will materially assist in this direction.The concluding portion of the report says:We have therefore come to the conclusion that unemployment in the wool textile industry has been, and is likely to be, accentuated by the importation of foreign dress goods, and we agree that this joint committee of employers and trade unions should support a further application for Safeguarding.That application was made because the case was justified, and the recommendation for a duty was made. It is only right to say, in view of the statements which have been made in regard to production and the diminution of our export trade, that we who are concerned with the finding of employment for the workmen desire to do this to the best of our ability; and, furthermore, we desire to do it at the most remunerative rates of pay. We are anxious to do that, but, unless you can protect us from this foreign competition, it is hopeless to put this industry on a profitable basis.
There is only one other thing to which I must refer, and it is the necessity for a closer economic co-operation with the Dominions. It is my practical experience of trading with the Dominions that they are the best markets that we can find. They pay, and they are honourable with all their commitments and transactions, and in the course of the textile trade they have given to us in this country preferences which have been of the utmost value to us in maintaining our trade with the Colonies. Lately, higher duties have been made in Canada, and have seriously affected some of the business with which I am concerned. But my point is that had we tackled the Dominion Ministers properly, certain difficulties might have been avoided, and, on behalf of the woollen trade, I wish at once to say that we do appreciate most particularly the efforts of the Colonies and the Dominions to increase and maintain their trade with us, and, so far as they have done that, we in the woollen industry, we employers, dissociate ourselves fully and completely from the utterances made by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Thursday last.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. T. Shaw)
It is merely for the pur- 2322 pose of giving information to the House rather than making a speech, that I have risen. May I be allowed to compliment the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Lockwood) upon his maiden speech. I am sure that the House has been delighted to hear the hon. Member's point of view, which was stated with very great clarity, and I do not think that there is any question at all about the depth of his sincerity. While I must disagree with the hon. Member's conclusion, the House always appreciates speeches which bring a practical mind to bear on the question being discussed.
I would like to give the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley (Mr. B. Turner) and myself with regard to the wages of woollen workers on the Continent and to state one or two facts. When the first application for a reduction of wages was made to the Yorkshire textile workers, I gave them some advice. When I am not a Minister I am the international secretary of the textile workers, and it was my business to help any organisation in difficulties. The allegation was made that the reduction of wages was necessary because of the low wages and the long hours worked by the French. I am not arguing whether France which is a protected country, ought to have long hours and low wages. I leave that out of the question altogether. I advised that the best thing for us to do was to go to the North of France and learn on the spot what the conditions were, and then we should be in a better position to debate the question with the employers from actual knowledge rather than by accepting figures which might be accurate or inaccurate.
We found in the north of France that the wages were higher than had been stated, and that, on the top of the wages, family allowances were made and social insurances were given which added considerably to the wages. That threw out of perspective altogether the statements made about the rate of wages in the north of France; and it was also the case that, while the French hours had decreased by 12 per week, the French workers were better housed, better clothed and better fed than they were before the War. It may be perfectly true that their wages have not yet readied the standard of this country, 2323 but it is also perfectly true that their conditions have enormously improved since pre-War days. I am not arguing as to other factors. There are many factors, no one is enough to explain all the circumstances.
The same thing took place when the second application for a reduction of wages was made by the employers, but this time it was the German woollen workers who were receiving these low wages and working these excessive hours. We went to Germany in exactly the same way, and we found on the spot, from actual wages books and weavers' price tickets which we saw when we visited the firms, that the hours in Germany had decreased more than our hours had from pre-War standards, that the wages figures given to the Yorkshire textile workers' representatives by the employers were minimum wages, below which a, worker was not allowed to be paid, and that, on the actual piece rates, the actual wages earned were in nearly every case double or more than double the wages that had been stated to the Yorkshire textile workers as the wages of the German textile workers. I myself saw the books, the weavers' tickets, and the weavers' wages sheets, and I was able to convince myself that the statements about the wages of the German textile workers were quite inaccurate.
I have risen for the purpose of giving this information to the House, because, if we are to argue these matters, we had better argue them on facts if we can get them. Another thing that I should like to say is that, as no one knows better than the hon. Gentleman, the woollen industry of Reichenberg, in Czechoslovakia, is almost as old as the woollen industry in Yorkshire. No one knows better than the hon. Gentleman that it is a very highly developed industry, which has come down from father to son, exactly as in Yorkshire. Had I risen for the purpose of entering into arguments, I would have liked to have dealt with my hon. Friend's remarks on the question of Free Trade and Protection, but that is not my business, and it would be robbing the private Members of their time were I to do so. I merely rose to state a few facts that would have been stated by my hon. Friend the Member 2324 for Batley had he been able to be in his place.
§ Mr. ROY BIRD
I should like to take up one or two of the points which were mentioned by the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion. It seemed to me that the Mover divided his argument under three headings, and gave what he thought were the three remedies for the present condition of trade in the West Riding. Taking them in the order in which I think he gave them, they were tariffs, low wages, and amalgamations; or perhaps I might classify them under different headings, in the same order, as the policy of the Conservative party, the policy of the Liberal party, and the policy of the Socialist party.
The hon. Member dealt with the question of tariffs very shortly. He said that tariffs would not be a remedy, because, if we looked at our home consumption and our export trade, we should find that the export trade was worse off now as compared with the home trade than it was a few years ago. In saying that, he did not agree with what was said by the Seconder, who suggested that the reason for the large drop in our exports was that tariffs were put on by other countries. It seems to me to be quite clear from these statements, although apparently the two hon. Members do not agree, that if you can have some weapon with which, I will not say to fight, but to argue with your foreign competitors, and come to some bargain with them by threatening to put on tariffs in this country, you will very soon come to some agreement under which there will be fair trade, and not Free Trade, between all the countries.
The hon. Member rather led the House to believe that there had been no amalgamations in the textile trade, but that is quite untrue; there are several big amalgamations in the textile trade. I do not think that even the Mover would suggest that the big units in the textile trade are doing any better business than the smaller ones. In fact, the contrary is rather the case, because it will be found that in small units there is more personal attention and keener buying and selling, and that a man has, perhaps, more brain-waves in a smaller business than in a bigger one—he gets on to a special line. In many mills in the West Riding—
§ Mr. BIRD
Where small firms have had to close down, it has perhaps been due to the fact that, as I am prepared to admit, their financial resources have not been as great as those of the larger ones, since the banks have not given them so much credit. They are not so deeply in the ribs of the banks, and, therefore, the banks do not keep them alive; but, in the case of many big amalgamations, the banks are so much involved that they do not let them go. It is untrue to say that the depression in the textile trade would be met by amalgamation.
My hon. Friend said that if you had amalgamation you would be able to buy better, but it seems to me that if, as my hon. Friend said, there was competition in the market among the people who were bidding for the raw material, prices would go up. That, however, is not what is happening. On the contrary, prices of raw materials are dropping every day, and that is half the trouble in the trade at the present moment. When a man takes an order, and thinks he will be all right in buying at a particular price, he finds that the price of his raw material has gone down, and someone else comes in and competes against him at a lower price. Even from that point of view, amalgamations will not assist at all.
As my hon. Friend continued his argument, it rather made me think that he was not really advocating amalgamations in the sense in which we think of them, but that he was getting almost to nationalisation of the textile industry. I do not think that my hon. Friend would even deny that. [Interruption.] He says that he would not. He visualises the day when the textile industry will become a Department of Whitehall, and then, he thinks, better buying will be possible, and that there will be better selling and better attention to business, than under present conditions. There he and I part company—
§ Mr. BIRD
I think it must have been the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) who interjected that that was the idea. At any rate, if my hon. Friend has not that in his mind, some other hon. Members seem to have it at the back of their minds as the ultimate aim of the Socialist party. I am grateful for this opportunity of stating the view of the textile workers in my Division—it is not only the view of the employers, but is the view also of the trade union leaders, who are not politically inclined to the extent that some hon. Members in this House are. They look at this question from the point of view of their members. They say "Something is wrong in the textile trade. We have gone into the matter, and we think that the best chance we have is to safeguard the products of our members' labour." I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) has not turned up to take part in this debate, because he is a Safe-guarder and also a trade union leader. He knew what was best for the lace trade, and I consider that he might have turned up to-night and given us the benefit of his experience in the lace trade, so that we could get some idea from the Labour side of what they really think when it comes to a practical point of view.
Possibly the difficulty we are under at the present moment is that people are dealing with this matter from a political point of view instead of a business point of view. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Lockwood) on the manner in which he approached this subject. I should like to add my word to that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and to say that the sincerity of his remarks was clear to everybody. He spoke with knowledge of the subject, and I feel very proud to have been one of his sponsors when he was introduced into this House. I will conclude by saying, that hon. Members on the other side should consider this matter from the point of view of their constituents, and not from the point of view of their Front Bench, which, after all, is not a Socialist Front Bench, but is largely composed of renegades from the Liberal party—what I may call the cuckoos in the nest—and if only they would rid themselves of them, as the Liberal party has done, I think Safeguarding would have a better chance 2327 of succeeding in this country and the textile workers in the West Riding and throughout England would have more hope of prosperity in the near future.
§ Mr. JOWETT
I desire to associate myself with the congratulations to the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Lockwood). One would hardly have guessed by his manner and the orderliness of his speech that it was a maiden effort. This Motion is in two parts, first, to call attention to the present condition of the woollen industry, and then to call for reorganisation. I have been associated with the industry for a great many years, and, indeed, I first went into it at the age of eight, so that I can claim to have a very intimate connection with it. The present condition of the industry has been very carefully described from different quarters and different points of view this evening. As indicating the present condition of the industry, I may mention that whereas in 1920 there were 30,500 looms running, it is estimated that at present there are only some 11,000. That is one aspect of it, but a far more serious aspect, from the point of view of the working classes, is that the industry has failed grievously to maintain the workers employed in it, and has left them in a parlous condition, many of them having spent nearly a lifetime in it. Indeed, it is not to be wondered at that there is a great diminution in the export trade in which we are interested in the West Riding.
Within the period that I have known this industry, one firm of makers of machines and looms in that district sent no fewer than 20,000 looms into one small foreign country, Belgium, and wherever on the face of the globe civilisation is in existence, textile machinery has been sent during the past two generations in great quantities. We may reckon on it that that machinery has not been purchased for ornament, but for use. The inevitable result is a shrinkage in our foreign markets and in our Colonies and Dominions. In that connection I may observe that the hon. Member for Shipley seemed to hope that by some policy or other we could restore the textile industry and its exports to the Dominions. If there is one thing which is certain as anything can be in our industrial arid commercial life, it is that these Dominions 2328 have deliberately made up their minds that they are going to encourage and foster their own textile and other industries and to make themselves independent as far as possible of imports of manufactured goods.
Whatever policy may be advocated wits regard to tariffs or Preference, it is as certain as anything can be that the Australians and the New Zealanders, who have the raw material for woollen textiles in their own country, will not continue sending raw materials 7,000 miles across the water to be combed and spun, woven and dyed, with whatever profits mat, be taken in those processes, and the cost of carriage, forwards and backwards. Surely, common sense will tell us that it will be their very serious endeavour to create in their own countries the plant and all that is necessary to manufacture these goods from their own raw materials. Therefore, in the long run, whatever may be the immediate position and result, we must face these facts, first, that our textile machinery and the knowledge which we previously monopolised are now shared in foreign lands, and that foreign markets must necessarily shrink in consequence; secondly, that in the Dominions, and in any land where the raw material is grown and produced, there will be inevitably a tendency to manufacture their own raw material into finished goods.
Another factor of very great importance in determining the conditions in the textile industry of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which has not been referred to in this debate, is the increasing burden of finance carried. The point, I am sure, will be clearly illustrated if I remind the House that France, by reason of her peculiar form of capital levy, has freed herself from something like four-fifths of her debt. Capital charges, mortgages, debentures, State debts, have been wiped out to a very large extent, freeing industry, municipalities, and State from charges that we ourselves are still bearing. Not only are we still hearing those charges, but our policy has been a distinctly opposite policy, and by restoring the gold standard and solving our financial problem in the manner indicated by the bankers, instead of reducing our indebtedness we have increased it.
I do not think it would be an extravagant statement if I said that at least 25 per cent. has been added to the finan- 2329 cial burdens, not only of municipalities and State, but of every industrial concern by the appreciation of the British pound sterling, by reason of the conduct and the policy that I have mentioned. The effect, as I understand it, is that in selling textile products into any foreign country under present conditions, we have at least placed an additional burden on our own products equal to a tariff of 10 per cent., and there would be far more sense in relieving our products of the cost of that very costly financial operation than in placing tariffs on foreign goods without any knowledge of the effect of so doing.
But, after all, it is not the foreign trade that is the be-all and end-all in the production of textiles. I agree in attaching very great importance to the home trade, but what is it more than anything else that has destroyed and impaired the home trade? What is it but the poverty of the working classes of this country I can remember the time when, from quite a number of large merchant houses in Bradford, there used to go out travellers, at the beginning of every week, into the North-Eastern district of Northumberland and Durham, into the industrial districts of Scotland, of Wales, and the Midlands, returning at the end of each week with their wallets bulging with orders, not for a mere half piece of this pattern or that pattern, of this shade or of that shade, but for 10 pieces, 20 pieces, 50 pieces, 100 pieces—bread and butter trade, the foundation of the textile industry.
Do as you will to foster the luxury part of that industry—and it is very largely a luxury trade now—however successful our manufacturers may be in capturing the luxury trade, such as is shown in the windows of the large stores patronised mainly by the wealthy classes, if there is not the foundation of the ordinary, staple day-by-day wear of the common people, the looms of Bradford will be bound to suffer. There never can be such a thing as a restored Bradford industry unless the people can buy. We have gone on for years, with little or no attempt on the part of Governments to adopt any policy of resisting reductions of wages, with £600,000,000 less purchasing power for the working classes. Four-fifths of the expenditure in every working-class 2330 household is on necessary things, on food, and clothing, and shelter, things that relate directly to the staple industries of the country, and there is no better way than by increasing the spending power of the people to restore such industries as the textile industry of this country.
Those with whom I am associated hold the belief that there must be some way of securing increased working class incomes and if in ordinary industrial conditions the worker fails to get higher wages, then it is the duty of this House to see that those people have money wherewith to buy clothes, food, and shelter, by rigorous taxation of that class which is more prosperous than ever it was before. I am not now referring to the industrial adventurers, but to the rentiers, the financiers, the share speculators, the bankers. Lay them under tribute and in that way put some spending power into the homes of the working classes.
I presume that the reorganisation that is referred to in this Motion means rationalisation. There is no more perfect example of rationalisation than is to be found in the Bradford Dyers' Association. It began it years ago. It is true that a far higher wage rate is being paid to a relatively small section of its workers, but there is a per contra in the amount of unemployment and short time, and one establishment after another is found to be either redundant or in same way unremunerative. This highly-rationalised establishment has been prosperous and rationalisation, no doubt, if it is carried into effect elsewhere will have similar effects. The Bradford Dyers' Association from 1922 to 1927 paid its ordinary shareholders in dividends 85 per cent. of the amount they had paid in and, in addition, distributed bonus shares to the amount of 60 per cent. In other words, it returned to the ordinary shareholders in bonus and dividend 145 per cent., nearly half as much again as they had invested. Woolcombers, another example of rationalisation, though not so perfect as the other, when it first gave notice of its attack on wages in 1927 had made six distributions of bonus shares since 1916, and no less than £50,000 more has been paid in bonus shares alone than the total issued capital.
§ Mr. JOWETT
That is a separate story and one which would not be creditable to those who floated it if it were told. When this firm pays 10 per cent., it is equal to 50 per cent. on the actual capital involved. Rationalisation inevitably means more unemployment, and it frequently means monopoly and monopoly prices, and the only alternative is organisation under State direction. In that connection, I want to mention a remarkable fact. When control was taken off wool, owing to the agitation of the wool merchants and traders, prices fluctuated to such an extent as to begin this demoralisation of the textile industry which has continued ever since. During the period of control, the price was kept fairly even, the disastrous results of over-speculation were impossible, and the trade was relatively prosperous, but after control was removed prices fluctuated as the result of speculation so that "sixties super tops" bumped up in two years' time from 3s. 7d. per lb. to Os. 4d. and fell back in another two years, leaving a trail of ruined speculators behind it. Until this trade is controlled through raw materials, and until the spending power of the working-class is increased so that they can buy the things they need, there will be no possibility of this great industry being restored to the position that it ought to hold.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE - LISTER
The Motion calls on the Government to take practical steps to assist this industry, and the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, though I do not agree with all his conclusions, has drawn the attention of the Government very forcibly to the importance of the home market to this trade. In beginning his speech, he founded himself on two propositions both of which are incontrovertible; first, that countries overseas will tend more and more to manufacture for their own purposes, and, second, that owing to one cause or another, manufacturers in foreign countries have not to bear burdens which manufacturers in this country have to bear—two very pertinent observations—and he drew the conclusion which all of us on this side of the House would also draw, and which the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Lockwood) drew in a very 2332 interesting maiden speech, that the home market is of increasing importance to us to-day. With all that, I entirely agree. When you look at the fall in our export trade and the concurrent rise in imports in this industry, the lesson which the right hon. Gentleman tried to hammer home becomes all the more true.
May I remind the House of the figures. They will not be contradicted by the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply, for I have taken them from his Journal. They are really most remarkable. If you take the year 1924 as the basic year—we had the Census of Production then—and you take the exports of that year at the figure of 100, you find that during the first nine months of this year, compared with the first nine months of 1924, the export of yarns in manufactures in this industry was only 58.8. If you put the figures in sterling, it means that we were exporting £51,000,000 worth of yarns in manufactures in the first nine months of 1924. In the first nine months of this year, at the 1924 values, which is a fair comparison, our exports were only worth £30,000,000. If that could all be attributed to a general decline in world trade—we should certainly have to take notice of it—we might say that it was a passing phase, and that we hoped for better times.
In the meantime, what has been happening to imports I The retained imports were 28 per cent. higher than they were in 1924. You get a rise of £3,000,000 worth. If you take the very latest figures, the figures for October of this year compared with October of a year ago, what do you find? In October of this year the exports were down from £4,300,000 to £2,900,000. That means a reduction in tissues of nearly 2,500,000 square yards in a month. It means a reduction of 1,700,000 lbs. in yarns. At the same time, there was no such fall in imports. On the contrary, imports rose in quantity by something like 19 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman spoke in general terms, but those figures, which are in the possession of the Board of Trade and are published by the Board of Trade, surely, hammer home the vital importance to this industry of looking after our home markets.
§ Mr. B. RILEY
Will the right hon. Gentleman give the figures as to the 2333 actual increase in imports of tissues this year as compared with last year?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am not sure that I can do so. In the single month the increase is 19 per cent. This was in October, and relate's to the last published figures. The published figures which I have quoted as being issued by the Board of Trade are, I think, a fair comparison, because they are volume figures, taking 1924 as our basic year. Year after year our exports have steadily gone down, and to-day they are more than 40 per cent. below 1924, whereas, at the same time the retained imports into this country have gone up to between 28 and 29 per cent.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
No, certainly not; for nine months. I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to check those figures. I will give them again, because I have extracted them from the Board of Trade Journal. I have been challenged, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to check the figures. I say that, taking the figure of 1924 as 100, our exports in the first nine months of this year are 58.8 as compared with 100 in 1924, which is a reduction of more than 40 per cent. in our exports. Is that denied?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
At the same time, the retained imports into this country are at the figure of 128.3 for exactly the same period, which is an increase of 28 per cent. in our imports, comparing like with like and volume with volume, and taking nine months with nine months. If there is any doubt about it, I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to be good enough to have these figures checked in his Department. If I have made a single error, I will correct it and apologise, but if I have not made a mistake let the figures go to the world, and let the world judge what has happened.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of looms. We used to be told that the manufacturer might suffer, but other people were all right. We are learning to-day that we are all bound together, 2334 and that whether it is the manufacturer of yarns or of tissue, or the loom-maker, or the merchant, all their interests are the same. If you go to the West Riding of Yorkshire to-day you will find that loom-makers are unable to get orders, unless they are orders for foreign countries. You find the very striking contrast, that whereas in certain protected industries new factories are springing up and new machinery is being introduced, factories are being dismantled in Yorkshire and being transferred across the sea to protective countries. It is said that the merchants prosper. I have been in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and I can say that far from the merchants prospering in these times by being able to collect foreign goods. and sell them all over the world, they are reducing their staffs, and are having about as thin a time as ever they have had before.
We are told that we must go in for reorganisation. What guarantee is there for the home market? If there is no chance of getting into the foreign markets by effective bargaining power, what chance or encouragement is there for these industries to reorganise and set their house in order? If we had got an export under this system to compensate the industry, so much the better, but, the figures regarding exports are symptomatic of the whole of our trade. Our export trade this year is down by £120,000,000 already compared with last year, and last year was not a particularly cheerful year. The right hon. Gentleman added at the end of his speech that there is only one way to help. You have to have a home market and increase the purchasing power in the home market. Again I agree. He said, "Get it by taxation. I do not mean tax the industrialist, but tax the rich man, the rentier." Supposing you try, you will find it very difficult. The rentier, as you call him, the man who has no stake in this country, who has not sunk his fortune in this country in factories, land or employment, will very soon find his way out through your taxation.
The one man on whom your taxation will fall, and on whom it is falling to-day—and rising unemployment is the consequence—is the man who has had the courage and faith to keep his money 2335 in this country, to sink his money in this country, whether he is a landowner on his land or a manufacturer in his factory. That is the man whom you are going to hit, and you are going to hit the whole of industry with him. It is an extraordinarily easy thing to make rich men poor, but it is a much more difficult thing, and more important, to make poor men richer. You will not do the latter by increasing burdens of taxation, but you will do it by increasing the employment of your people, by giving security to your people in the market which matters the most, and by seeing that that market which to-day consumes four-fifths of our production consumes a great deal more of our home production. Every man whom you put into work by giving him a chance of working in a protected industry will be increasing the real purchasing power of this country and will be helping another man without doing anyone any damage. There lies the only chance of the Government taking practical and effective steps to help this or any other industry.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I had hardly begun to listen to the right hon. Gentleman when he sat down. I could almost have wished that I could concede the whole of his contention without further ado. If such a thing as an adjustment in tariffs, by way of particular method of Safeguarding or by a more general scheme, could solve the problem which confronts the West Riding of Yorkshire. I should be very happy indeed. I am afraid that by the iteration of the wonder-working powers of Safeguarding and tariff systems we are only encouraging delay in the real tackling of the problem. The woollen industry, while it has its distinguished home in the West Riding of Yorkshire, is not confined to that great Riding. We are thinking in this Motion in terms of an industry which has something like 1,250,000 people in it scattered over a large number of countries in the world; and I am one of those, along with my hon. Friends, who takes the view that we are not going to get a plan for the redemption of the West Riding and its basic industry until we think of the West Riding very much more in terms of that wider industry in which, for good or evil, it has to take its inevitable setting.
2336 I want to make my plea for the adoption of certain new practical measures for the treatment of this industry on the grounds that in this post-War period the West Riding has to deal with an entirely new set of facts, and so far as I know the industry in the West Riding has not examined those facts and has not devised a programme which appears to us to be consonant with those facts. Down to 1914 we might, very properly, either in this House or as responsible. leaders of the textile industry in the West Riding, in the main have confined ourselves to a West Riding discussion, because the rest of the world was relatively unimportant from the point of view of the fortunes of the Riding. Every Member of this House knows that since the outbreak of the world War there has been a revolutionary change in the textile industry. It is not only that the countries which were engaged in the War intensified their national development of the wool industry, but that a large number of other countries which up to that time had never thought of having a wool industry of their own were, by the pressure of circumstances, driven into that field of economic adventure.
The House knows that there are a dozen or 15 countries which are rapidly on the way to-day to becoming self-satisfying in their woollen needs which in 1914 were among our greatest markets for the export of West Riding woollen goods. Take, for example, Japan. It we compare the figures of 1914 with those of to-day, we can say, roughly, that Japan has multiplied her imports of wool by four, and that she has multiplied her number of spindles by three. When the 1928 report on the economic conditions in Japan was submitted to the Board of Trade by our own people out there, they said, what I think is not to be controverted:Japan is gradually becoming self-supporting in woollens as she has already become in cottons. In a long view of the situation, the conclusion is inevitable that imports will be confined, firstly, to raw wool, and secondly, to certain specialities; and British representatives on the spot have no hesitation in declaring that the Japan market is becoming more difficult for them every year.Let us take the case of Australia. We have had not only from the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Lockwood), in his maiden speech to-night, but from one or 2337 two other Members who have spoken from the opposite benches, views put forward as to the possibility of Empire trade in the woollen industry from the point of view of assisting the West Riding of my own county'. It is true that Australia had a slight woollen industry in 1913, but it was only a slight one. We can say, roughly, that the Australian woollen industry dates from the outbreak of the world War. They have gone ahead and, according to the latest figure which I have, their woollen factories have developed from 22 before the outbreak of the War to 50 in 1929, and their workers have increased from 5,000 in 1913 to 9,000 at the end of last year. What is snore significant, notwithstanding the fact that we do get a preference from Australia with regard to the sale of British textiles—it is well known to all Members of the House—is that the tariff barrier against the ingress of woollens into Australia has been raised again and again since 1913. Even with the advantage of the preference, we have to record that since 1913 British woollen products exported into Australia have fallen from nearly 13,000,000 square yards to 10,000,000 square yards at the end of 1927. Although I have not got the figure for 1929 or 1930, my impression is that the figure will be very much below 10,000,000 at the present time.
If the fact be true, as has been argued from the other side to-night, that we may look to the Dominions for some help for the West Riding of Yorkshire, I would ask hon. Members how they would interpret the statement made by Mr. Fenton when he was recently at Bradford. He wanted to give some comfort to my good friends in Bradford; they are in a bad way, and Australia is theoretically a big potential market, He said to them thatThe best he could do"—speaking on behalf of Australia now and for many years to come—for the British manufacturers was to invite them to come out to Australia and help to develop the industry there.That is a very subtle and, to anyone who knows the patriotic and adventurous spirit of the West Riding, a very seductive appeal to put before West Riding people. But it does not help the problem of the West Riding industry and its future. I understand that Mr. Bennett, 2338 speaking on behalf of Canada, made an almost identical remark in regard to Canada during the recent Imperial Conference. Japan and Australia were before the War actual and enormously potential markets for the West Riding of Yorkshire. Let us take a third example. We had a very considerable market for British woollens in the Italian market before the War. What is the situation to-day? The space of 17 years not only has produced an economic nationalism in the woollen industry which has gone so far in Italy that she is completely independent of the British exports of woollen goods, but she has become an effective competitor in many countries where we had quasi-monopoly conditions in the days before the War. She has not only gone to the Balkans, but she has entered into the markets of China and India and threatens, for political as well as economic reasons, more than to hold her own in those outlying fields. What is true of these three countries, which I have taken as a type, is true of at least a dozen other countries that could be named.
The West Riding is not simply confronted with a superficial problem of tariff adjustment, but with a revolutionary change in its environment. Now, and as far ahead as we can see, we have 15 or 16 countries all of which are saying: "We are going to build up in our own country our own supplies of woollen textile goods." They are saying that not only, as in the case of Canada and Australia, because they want to become by deliberate choice an industrial nation at all costs, but because the woollen industry is deeply integrated in the system of defence in the life of a nation. Everyone knows that the British "Tommy" during the War consumed on his back and with his equipment four times as much woollen as the average civilian does at the present time. In any fair reckoning of what is necessary for the defence of a nation in time of war, the woollen industry takes a primary place. War cannot be conducted without mobilising the textile industry as a war industry. Whatever, therefore, may happen in the future development of nations with regard to the tariff problem, even supposing that my right hon. Friend at Geneva makes good and succeeds in bringing down to some extent the mounting tariff barriers 2339 of Europe, the woollen industry will be among the last to yield to that development, because the woollen industry will always be classified as an industry which is absolutely indispensable for the conduct of modern war. Until we have a far larger measure of international security than we have at the present time, no nation, certainly none of the 15 or 16 nations which we have in mind, is going to give up its intensive sense of need and necessity for building up at all costs its own woollen textile industry.
The argument that I am building up from the recapitulation of these fairly obvious facts is, that the conditions of international marketing for the textile industry of the West Riding have, from our point of view, undergone a profound and a relatively permanent change. We are confronted with a large number of nations which, progressively, are going to drive out British textile goods because their policy, irrespective of tariffs, is to become self-sufficing with regard to this particular industry. The time has come when we ought, as a House of Commons and as a nation, to have some kind of ground plan, a, map, for the textile industry of this country, not in relation to a temporary trade depression or the superficial issues of tariffs and free trade but in relation to the permanent change in the industrial environment in which the great textile industry has now to make good.
In the second place, I want to plead for new practical measures. Although we have had three important reports bearing on the woollen industry in recent years, not one of them gives the kind of map of which Yorkshire and the nation stands in need at the present time. The Balfour report, which will be indispensable to economic students for a generation to come—without a perusal of this report no man can hope to make any contribution to the study of post-war problems—has devoted half of one of its volumes to a description of post-war conditions in the woollen industry, but that report, whilst it hints at the need for reorganisation in several departments of the woollen industry, does not provide any kind of plan. It is content to paint a map and give some kind of faithful objective description of 2340 the new economic world in which we have to find our way. The other two important reports, whilst they contain paragraphs bearing on practical measures, do not give the plan for which we are pleading to-night.
The Macmillan report is important because the protagonists before that committee laid down their separate plans for the future of the industry, and these plans were mutually contradictory. The leaders of the organised workers maintained that there was a case for the rationalisation of the industry, for bringing in methods of mass production and the abandonment of the methods of salesmanship in the West Riding, in Great, Britain and abroad and substituting new forms. They maintained that there was a strong case for the introduction of new kinds of machinery and for the complete abandonment of a large number of small firms which have done distinguished work in the 19th century, but which can find no rational place under the profoundly changed conditions of the post-War period. That is the programme which was submitted by the organised leaders of the textile industry, and I suggest that when it comes to the problem of serving the industry and the nation that no Member of this House of any party will deny that the leaders of the workers, those who are responsible not for the capitalist side but for the lives of the people in the industry, will say that their contribution is not entitled to as much consideration as that which comes from the most important employer and organiser of capital in the industry.
When the employers put forward their evidence to Lord Macmillan it was diametrically opposed to that of the workers' leaders. They said, in effect, that there was no case for the reorganisation of the industry, or for the introduction of new machinery and large-scale methods of production, or for a change in the present methods of salesmanship. They said that there was, on the contrary, a distinct advantage in the industry remaining as it was and retaining the small firms of 10, 15 or 20 people. They said that the large variety of finer products demanded in the woollen industry, as contrasted with the cotton industry, made the small firm an indispensable and permanent feature in any sound organisation of the industry. I am not contend- 2341 ing as to which view is right. I am only pointing out, that Lord Macmillan had to hand in his report unfinished. He said: "I cannot pronounce judgment on an issue of this kind. I have been invited to pronounce judgment on the issue of wages. I have not had time to examine all the evidence upon which, alone I would be able to pronounce judgment on the other issue." Therefore, he left the matter in suspense with one reference to the preceding report, the report of the Safeguarding Committee, which alleged that on the whole the organisation of the industry was reasonably efficient. That certificate of reasonable efficiency was based on the assumption that the leaders of the industry were then actively considering the introduction of new machinery and large-scale methods of production and a general reorganisation consonant with the requirements of a new age. But that has not been done, and therefore we are in this position—and this is the second reason why I think the time has come for practical measures to be applied—that neither we as House of Commons, nor British public opinion, nor the employers of labour, nor the workers, have any kind of ground plan for the future conduct of the industry.
The industry is torn in two as to what its future plan of campaign should be. That is an intolerable position and I make a plea to my hon. Friend to take up this business where Lord Macmillan left off. We have now been going along for eight or nine years being told each year that we are going to get out of our difficulties, but we are drifting from bad to worse. It may sound rather stale to advocate the idea of another committee of inquiry but we are at the beginning of a new period in our national economic life and we, as a party, have always maintained that yon cannot legislate on the basis of ignorance. You have to know your map first and there is not a map in this case. Therefore I invite my hon. Friend to render to this industry the great service which we have already rendered, as a Labour Government, to the textile industry of Lancashire. We have given that industry a map. This question is above the level of party and hon. Members opposite will agree that in that case we have got the considered verdict of the wisest people who we could collect. I plead for a 2342 similar inquiry into the woollen industry of the West Riding so that we may get to know where we are.
I have been in this House for six years; represent a constituency which is under a cloud of this problem and this is the first time I have ventured to open my mouth on this subject. I do not know what form reorganisation is to take, but I am very deeply concerned, and I hope, from many points of view that my hon. Friend is wrong in his conception of the future organisation of the industry I have eight or nine villages in my constituency each containing a relatively small plant, and each village lives on its plant. I would like to be assured, if it is possible, that there is a future for the small townships of our Yorkshire dales on a scientific basis. I am anxious to know, for I have three iron steel works in my constituency. One—Penistone—is knocked out of existence, and the others are threatened. There are, too, a number of small pits; they are marginal pits, and they also are theoretically doomed. I am deeply interested in what is to be the nature of the reorganisation of the woollen textile industry. I am prepared to take the view that there may be a powerful case for the relatively small kind of technique, but I do not believe that several hundreds of small factories working independently of one another, and all going anarchically their own way, have a chance. If they are to survive, it will only he if they are integrated into a common system. That is a problem with which I want to see this House concerned.
I urge the Government to do for the woollen industry of Yorkshire at least what has already been done for the cotton industry of Lancashire, for the desperate problem of the iron and steel industry, and for the mining industry, and to see, if we cannot have legislation to deal with the problem in the lifetime of this Government, that we are able at least to hand on to the next Government a ground plan with a scientific objective. This was a great pioneer industry in the middle ages, and, but for the Yorkshire textile industry, I doubt if India would be in the British Empire to-day. I am pleading for a re-capture of a wider kind of patriotism in order that we may escape from a system which as no place in the 20th 2343 century. Yorkshire men and women, once they have their map, will do what they did in the middle ages. Let us have this map, so that we may know where we are, and what is the direction in which this nation ought to move.
§ Major LONG
Representing a Division in the West of England, where the textile industry for the past 50 years has become gradually lower and lower, I felt that the least I could do was to make the strongest representations to the Government to take action with regard to this industry, and not to be satisfied with mere words. The many speeches to which I have listened in this debate from hon. Members opposite has been, I am sure, made from perfectly sincere motives, but they have been without the least constructive policy. The only constructive policy that has been put before the House to-day and in the past is that which has been put forward by my tight hon. Friend on the Opposition Bench, that of safeguarding this industry, which was turned down by the present Government. In the past 30 years over 20 of my textile factories have gone out of use. Within the past three months another one that has been working for more than 100 years has gone; and we are faced with an unemployment situation which I can say with all sincerity I have done my best to alleviate during the past 20 years. Hon. Members opposite made statements about managers, about the banks, and about the employers in some factories not being very generous. I desire to deny that. In my part of the world, I say emphatically, no one has clone more to help the situation than the managers and the employers in the textile industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where is that?"] The West of England has long been noted for its cloth, and if India is on the map because of Bradford I would remind the House that the first 200,000 of Kitchener's Army who went to the War were equipped in West of England cloth, because Bradford wool had failed at that time. However, I only point that out in passing.
These are not the times for words. Action is what we need now. Hon. Members opposite say that these bankers and these employers are no use to the industry and ought to go. I would point out, with all respect, that there are 2344 scores and scores of employés being kept on in the factories in my Division through the kindness of heart of the employers, though there is no business for them to do and there is no money to be made. Other hon. Members opposite have tried to make out that we on this side have been in favour of a decrease in wages. I beg to say the contrary is the case. I fought the last two elections on the policy of Safeguarding, and though my constituency is a Liberal seat I have held it with the policy of Safeguarding. Working men and working women who are out of work can see in that a definite and tangible policy which they can catch hold of, and they know that workers in other safeguarded industries have benefited by the bonuses which have been given to them.
Hon. Members opposite have said time and time again: "Where does the working man or the working woman benefit under Safeguarding?" Let them come down to my Division, and I will show them. It has been said that our own exports have never gone up. I beg to differ. In the safeguarded industries in my own Division exports have gone up, but they will shortly decrease and pass out of sight altogether. Owing to whom? To the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is the gentleman who has done that for the unemployed. [Interruption.] Oh yes, you can jeer that, but believe me it will not be long before working men and working women will have found out the hypocrisy not only of hon. Members opposite but of their Front Bench.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. W. R. Smith)
I think one is entitled to say that some very interesting and useful contributions have been male from both sides of the House to the debates we have had this evening, largely because those who have taken part have spoken with a first-hand knowledge of the Industries which were under discussion. It is not possible for me to speak with a firsthand knowledge of this industry, but I am not entirely without sympathy with it, because I happen to represent a constituency which was the woollen textile centre in this country before the industry found itself in Yorkshire. We, unfortunately, were too far away from the coal fields to retain the industry when the power loom came into operation. The 2345 Mover of the Motion, in a speech of great interest, and very much to the point, justified it by a series of figures illustrating the very parlous condition of the woollen industry. Figures have been given relating to unemployment which in themselves are a complete justification for this House endeavouring to examine this subject with a view to finding out some policy which will bring about an alteration. The figures of unemployment were followed by others relating to the closing down of factories, all of which indicate that poverty and distress must loom very large in the areas where the woollen industry is carried on.
Those figures and illustrations were followed up by suggestions that there were three heads under which this problem might be considered. The first was that of tariffs; the second that of low wages, and the third some scheme of reorganisation whereby with greater efficiency and greater control the industry might reach a more flourishing condition. It is quite true that the second of these suggestions has not been put forward as a means of bringing prosperity back to the woollen trade. I do not know that I can accept the suggestion that those three proposals can be allocated to the three parties in this House. If the suggestion of low wages is to be associated with the Liberal party, as was suggested by an hon. Member opposite, all I can say is that it has not been put forward here to-night; in fact, no contribution has come from the Liberal benches in regard to this matter.
It is perfectly obvious that, as far as the debate has gone, the House is divided in regard to two suggestions, that of tariffs and re-organisation. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. B. Riley) very largely anticipated the arguments that might be put forward so far as tariffs are concerned. He pointed out by quotations and figures that the problem very largely lies, as far as diminishing trade is concerned, on the side of reduced exports rather than in the direction of increased imports. Figures have been quoted to show that the position was not exactly as the hon. Member for Dewsbury has suggested. In seeking to justify this point of view, the right hon. Member gave figures relating to the years 1924 and 1930. If we are to test the position so far as im- 2346 ports are concerned, that is hardly a fair basis on which to make a comparison. We all know how much industry has been disturbed in post-War years, and how abnormal everything became. The woollen industry suffered as much as any industry in this country because of our requirements during the period of the War and the years that followed. Therefore, it is not easy to make an exact comparison with any two post-War years so far as the figures are concerned.
I would like to suggest to my right hon. Friend—and I am not for one moment challenging any figure that he took, because I know how careful he is in looking into these matters, and when official figures are quoted it is not very easy to challenge them on the ground of accuracy—I would suggest to him that one of the best means of comparison, so far as imports are concerned, to determine to what extent they are the damaging factor in connection with the woollen industry, is to take some pre-War years which may be considered as the pre-War normal, and compare them with the position of to-day, or as near an approach to it as we can get. I have not looked at these figures very closely, and, therefore, I speak with same reservation, but I understand that the year 1928 is the peak post-War year so far as retained imports are concerned—that the imports in that year were the highest of any of the post-War years. I am under the impression that that is so, and I think that perhaps the figures would support that contention.
What is the position? Taking that year as the one most favourable to my right hon. Friend's comparison, what do the figures show so far as the year 1923 is concerned, as compared with the pre-War years which I am going to quote? The ratio of retained imports to home consumption in 1907 was 23.9 per cent. In 1912, the ratio of retained imports to home consumption was 18.1 per cent., while in 1928, the highest post-War year for imports, it was only 13.6 per cent. Therefore, the relative position of retained imports in regard to home consumption is much more favourable today than it was in pre-War years. Let us take another basis, comparing retained imports with home production. There we find a state of things similar to that which obtained in regard to home consumption. The ratio of retained im- 2347 ports in 1907 to the total home production was 16.6 per cent. In 1912 it was 13.1 per cent., while in 1928, the peak post-War year, it was 9.3 per cent. Therefore, if the problem which we have to consider at this moment is a post-War problem of exceptional depression as compared with the position in pre-War days, I suggest that these figures which I have quoted do not indicate in any way that the imports which are coming into this country constitute the main problem so far as the condition of the woollen industry is concerned.
On the question of exports also, suggestions have been made, which were largely answered by subsequent speakers. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Look-wood), in a very interesting speech, which I think did him the greatest credit as a first effort in this House, more especially when we learn that it is only quite recently that he undertook to speak in politics at all, emphasised the idea that what we ought to aim at is closer economic unity with the Dominions. While it may be very difficult for us at this moment, with the limited opportunities that present themselves for examination of this problem, to strike the exact and most successful line of action to be taken, it is also very important that we should avoid following any false trail, and I think I am entitled to emphasise the observations that have been made on this matter, both by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Jowett) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) when they stated that it is more or less useless to look to the Dominions as our main objective as a means of re-establishing our export trade.
We are all, I am sure, imbued with a very strong desire to develop to the fullest possible extent our trade, not only in the woollen industry, but in all other manufactured goods, with the Dominions overseas; but we know that in the explicit statements, made by the Dominion representatives, not only in private conversation, but in declaration's at the Imperial Conference and certainly at meetings and gatherings which they have addressed at different times during their stay here, they have emphasised one thing perhaps 2348 more than anything else, and that is that it is not merely their desire, but their determination to develop their secondary industries, and as far as possible to convert their primary produce into manufactured goods. That has been emphasised time and time again, and therefore I am sure it is not much use looking to them, much as we should desire it, as a means of re-establishing our export trade.
There is one phase of the question which has not been touched upon to-night very fully, and which I think is worth a word or two. I do not want to repeat arguments of a general character to the effect that we are passing through a world depression, yet that is a fact which we cannot ignore. I should like to suggest that none of our industries has suffered more from the fall in the price of primary products than the woollen industry. I listened the other night to a very interesting talk broadcast by Mr. McKenna on our monetary system. He emphasised this very important fact, that it is almost impossible to maintain a steady volume of trade or to increase it during a time when prices are rapidly falling. We must recognise that no essential crop has fallen more in price than wool has done. I have been looking up some figures to-day, not full or complete, because there are so many different qualities and grades of wool that I cannot take them all, but, taking four headings, I was able to get figures which show that in every case the price of wool to-day is less than the price of wool in pre-War times.
It is obvious that when prices are falling, as indicated by the illustrations I have given, manufacturers buy as short as possible for their requirements. By buying short they intensify the very problem with which we are faced, and so it goes on until it is difficult to say when bottom will be reached, and a turn of tide taken. The effect of the fall of prices there has had a result right throughout the country, and there is a tendency to refrain from purchasing goods when we are face to face with a falling market. Side by side with that we have the further fact that we have had reductions in wages, which has reduced the purchasing power of the people. I think that fact and the fact of falling prices may be an indication that the 2349 problem, as far as wool is concerned, is perhaps an intensified feature of the present depression which is world-wide in character. One can only hope that prices have touched bottom, and that there will be a reaction in an upward direction. As Mr. McKenna pointed out, there would then be a stimulus for buying, because the tendency would be for buyers not to wait for the market but to endeavour to get in before it changes.
The suggestion contained in the Motion is that the Government should take some practical means of bringing about reorganisation in the industry. The hon. Member for Penistone emphasised most strongly the desirability of something being done, and the same kind of action being taken as in regard to cotton. It has also been pointed out in this debate that the woollen industry has been subjected to three inquiries during a very short period of time, and it is difficult to keep on making inquiries into an industry even in the present circumstances. I am afraid, further, that our experience so far as cotton is concerned does not give us much encouragement in that direction. Although I fully believe, as indeed was said at the time that the cotton report was published, that it is a very valuable document, a very sound and practical survey of the industry and the problems associated with it, and that it did present in its recommendations suggestions of value were they able to be carried out, on the other hand we were told in a recent debate in this House that all the facts contained in that report were well known to the industry before the report was issued.
I am rather inclined to think that the facts, so far as the woollen industry is concerned, as a result of the inquiries that have taken place in the last four years are well known, and it is doubtful whether, if an economic plan such as has been suggested were prepared, there would be any greater readiness on the part of the manufacturers in the industry 2350 to accept that report or to apply its recommendations than has been shown in the cotton industry.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I appreciate that there have been three inquiries into the woollen industry in the last few years, but none of them has been concerned with inquiring into how it could be conducted in the future. They were concerned with matters of Safeguarding and of wages.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
I admit that the three inquiries that have taken place have been very limited in their character, because they have been related to specific objects, two in regard to the question of Safeguarding and one in regard to wages, but I was emphasising that the fact that these inquiries have taken place does not make it easy to set up another inquiry now. There is this further fact, that if the industry itself is aware of this problem as a result of what investigation has taken place, it would be far better for them if they accepted even the suggestion of the hon. Member for Batley (Mr. B. Turner), as contained in his telegram which was read by the hon. Member for Dewsbury, that the Industrial Council should get together and see how far they could examine this problem and make some suggestions. But if an inquiry were held now, there is a tendency that the industry would be inclined, instead of applying its mind towards some change or reorganisation, to wait for a, period of months until that report was produced.
I can only say, in conclusion, that the Government and the Department with which I am associated will continue to keep our minds centred upon this industry, and if at any time any useful purpose can be served, by any action on our part, we shall be only too pleased to take it and to help to the best of our ability.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House urges His Majesty's Government to take all practical measures for the reorganisation of the woollen textile industry in order to promote economic efficiency and prosperity.