HC Deb 29 July 1938 vol 338 cc3477-80
12. Mr. Tinker

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been drawn to the closing down of a mill at Leigh that employed 300 people, and that two other mills employing 1,400 people have received notice that on 27th August they will close down for three weeks; and will he have inquiries made to find out the cause and to see whether anything can be done to ease the position?

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

I am informed that the first mill referred to has been closed on a transfer of its work to another part of Lancashire. I am also informed that the other two mills have been running full time for a number of years and that production has latterly exceeded demand. It is hoped to resume full time working after the interval of three weeks.

Mr. Tinker

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether anything is done by his Department to prevent this kind of happening, or to make preparations to absorb the unemployed when it does take place? After all, it is a serious matter for the people of Lancashire?

Mr. Stanley

Of course, there are two parts to this question. One is a mere temporary closing, and after the three weeks it is hoped that everybody will be absorbed again in the same undertaking. The other is part of a reorganisation scheme which will give a lot of work in another part of Lancashire, not very far away. Any question of transference, is a question for the Ministry of Labour.

Mr. R. Gibson

Is there liaison between the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the Ministry of Labour in such a case?

Mr. Stanley

indicated assent.

48. Mr. Tinker

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that a number of mills have closed down in Leigh and others are on notice; that similar circumstances are prevalent in Lancashire; and will he set up a department with a Minister whose work will be to examine and report to the Cabinet changes in industrial conditions so that plans can be prepared to be in readiness to meet slumps and thus prevent hardships that arise at present?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

As regards the first and second parts of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to-day to his Question No. 12 addressed to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. In reply to the last part of the Question, I would refer him to the answer given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 4th July to the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson). I do not think that any additional machinery is necessary.

Mr. Tinker

Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a speech of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in which he said that the Special Areas were on the increase and that, unless something were done, the whole country would become one special area and, in view of that statement by a prominent ex-Member of the Government, is not my Question worth consideration from the right hon. Gentleman and his Cabinet?

The Prime Minister

Reports continually come to us from the Departments concerned, and we get full information as to the conditions of employment throughout the country.

Mr. Buchanan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that unemployment, contrary to the usual trend, is now rising, and in view of the on-coming winter and the serious position of a large number of very poor people, will he not consider during the Recess what emergency steps and additional steps can be taken to deal with the position?

The Prime Minister

I should not like to reply to that in the affirmative, because it might rouse hopes which could not be fulfilled. The opinion of His Majesty's Government is that the emergency work which has been put in hand for the purpose of dealing with unemployment has not proved in the past effective. The number of people who can be dealt with in that way is exceedingly small in proportion to the cost. There are several other ways in which something may be done to mitigate the fluctuations in trade, and I can assure the hon. Member that the Government have them very closely in mind all the time.

Sir Percy Harris

Is not the Prime Minister conscious that the serious feature of the position to-day is that the depression is taking place in spite of a tremendous expansion of expenditure on armaments, and will he ask the Service Departments to see that that expenditure is directed to those areas that are feeling the full pressure of industrial depression?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Baronet knows that the Government have throughout done their very best to direct expenditure upon armaments to those areas where unemployment is most prevalent. We have, indeed, on numerous occasions taken action in cases where, if we had considered simply the desirability of getting the work out in the quickest time, we should have sent the work elsewhere, but it has been deliberately diverted to places where it was most required. There, again, I think the general question of trade is one to which we have to direct our attention. I deprecate any suggestion that we are on the edge of a slump or of a return to any such conditions as existed in 1931.

Mr. Tomlinson

Is the Prime Minister aware that the most familiar sight in Lancashire is notices of sales of mills, that these are not temporary matters, and that it is not a question of the possibility of a coming slump? Will he consider, in view of what is taking place and the trade that is being destroyed—because the machinery is being broken up—having something done to take its place between now and the reassembly of Parliament? Lancashire is going down all the time.

The Prime Minister

The Government are very conscious of the difficulties of Lancashire, and are anxious to do anything they can. The hon. Member has given me credit for greater powers than any wizard has ever claimed if he thinks that I can devise during the Recess some new industries to take the place of the cotton industry.

Sir Joseph Nall

Is not emergency work a very poor substitute for a revival of the export trade; and, as regards this matter of the export trade, will my right hon. Friend cause the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office to work in greater collaboration with the Board of Trade than has been the case so far?

Mr. Craven-Ellis

Is it not a fact that increasing unemployment in the textile industry is largely attributable to the fact that the pound sterling is too highly valued in the foreign exchange market?

The Prime Minister

That is another question.