HC Deb 07 March 1940 vol 358 cc718-23

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

This is, of course, the operative Clause of the Bill. I would not have intervened were it not for the fact that there is in my constituency a small part of the textile industry. I welcome what is now being proposed for the textile industry of Lancashire by this Clause. I hope that the Cotton Board will bear in mind two or three things. I should be glad if the Minister would tell us whether it is intended to get rid of one complaint I used to hear from the textile industry even when it was in a flourishing condition; that is to say, that firms exporting this commodity to foreign countries would have two or three travellers from two or three separate firms in the same capital in the same foreign country at the same time. Is it intended, I wonder, that the Board to be appointed under this Bill shall so utilise this money as to abolish this undue competition in foreign countries by firms from Lancashire?

I have lived long enough in Lancashire to see this industry decline from its peak of prosperity down to the stage where its operatives were receiving wages that were lower than the amounts they could get from the public assistance committee. I trust that in implementing this Clause the Board will do what is intended. I see that the Board is entitled to give financial assistance. I take it there is to be no subsidy to any mill owner or company in this connection. During the time I have been in the House, I have seen practically every large industry in the country being subsidised by the State. The cotton industry was once the largest export industry in this country. In the past, the farmers, the coal owners and the railway companies have come to different Governments and asked for and secured heavy subsidies, but to-night we are passing a Measure where the industry itself is finding the money for its own recuperation. I am not so sure whether the Lancashire textile owners and operatives have taken sufficient interest in the manner in which Governments have assisted other industries financially in the past. They do not come to the House very often to ask for anything. They have come here for this Bill—they have agreed, for once, on this Measure—but still, they are not asking Parliament for any money.

Having seen this industry in all its glory and having seen it also decline to the very bottom of poverty, I sincerely trust that when this Bill is passed, war or no war, the Government will take as much interest in this textile industry as they have taken in coal and as they are always taking in agriculture. Until they do that, I see not very much hope of restoring this industry to the prosperous position in which it was formerly. It requires a major European war to cause the Government to try to put this industry on its feet after experiencing a great deal of poverty. The Government are talking about increasing our export trade, saving shipping space and convoying shipping over the oceans of the word. They will know as well as I do that you can transport £100,000 worth of textile goods in a very much smaller shipping space than almost anything else to foreign countries. Having said that, and this is the first time I have spoken on this Bill, I wish the Cotton Board well in all it has to do, and I trust that the Government will interest themselves a little more keenly in the Lancashire textile trade than they have in the past.

11.36 p.m.

Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)

I do not want to delay the smooth passage of this Bill but on the Question "That Clause 2 stand part of the Bill," I would like to ask the President of the Board of Trade on this Clause—the operative Clause of the Bill, giving power to advertise, to engage in research and investigation, and to go into statistics and so forth—not to give it a narrow interpretation. It is important, in my judgment, that the Clause should be interpreted to enable the Board to send out authoratative responsible individuals to various markets. We have a good deal of goodwill in our export markets at the present time. For reasons over which we have no control the productive sections of the industry are extremely busy and the export trade is being neglected; but those responsible individuals can go out to these markets—I am thinking in particular of the South American market—to maintain that goodwill and hold the fort until a greater and better organisation necessary for the development of this export trade can be brought into being. I think it would be a mistake for the Committee to take the view that this Bill, admirable as it is, will really deal effectively with the problem of Lancashire cotton trade. It will do something to help, but the problem, of course, is one of prices, and it does very little to deal with that. At the present time the producing sections are working as hard as they can. The spinning section has had imposed on it control of price margins in the hope that through it the price of export goods would be reduced. But my information is that the price of export cotton cloth has not been reduced and that manufacturers' margins have gone up. However, I do not want to go into this now. I would like to press the point that no narrow interpretation of the Clause should be given and that the President of the Board of Trade should give us some assurance that the larger problem of dealing with the question of differences in price levels, now greatly affecting the ability of the trade to export, will receive consideration at a later date.

11.39 p.m.

Sir Henry Fildes (Dumfries)

I see grave dangers in this Bill but I am confident that it is to the advantage of the cotton trade and the country generally that we have at the head of the Board of Trade a man with great commercial knowledge. I can speak for a lot of people in Lancashire who recognise that if they place their case before the President of the Board of Trade, he will not be hampered with any previous opinions in regard to the cotton trade and will give a full investigation. In that spirit I am prepared to say nothing against the Bill, and I hope it may realise the desires of those who promoted it.

11.40 p.m.

Major Procter (Accrington)

The cotton industry as a whole welcomes this Bill.

The Chairman

I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will say that it welcomes this Clause.

Major Procter

It welcomes this Clause, which is an important part of the Bill. There is one point which has troubled me. The export trade requires far more to enable it to function than this Clause provides, and I hope the Minister will consider in connection with this Board such problems as the subsidising of exports, so that the Board can carry on its functions to the utmost. We are losing market after market, not because of the lack of sellers or representatives on the spot, such as is provided in the Clause, but because of price. The manufacturers are afraid to quote because they do not know what the wages will be next month—

Mr. Tomlinson (Farnworth)

Of course they do; they know to a penny.

Major Procter

I am not satisfied with the wages of the cotton operatives—

Mr. Tomlinson

It is not a question of whether one is satisfied, but the manufacturers know what they are and will be to the end of March, and that ought to be known to the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Lancashire representatives.

Major Procter

In the future, with the rising cost of living to the operatives, wages are bound to increase, and undoubtedly there exists among manufacturers a fear of quoting forward for exports because of the rising costs, of which labour is one. Therefore, I hope the Minister will consult the Board to see whether, as it is necessary for us to get foreign exchange, they will subsidise the cotton export trade even if it means the payment of a levy by those engaged in the home trade.

11.42 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Major Lloyd George)

With regard to the question of travellers going abroad, this Clause enables experienced and responsible travellers to go to foreign markets to ascertain the requirements and to report. With reference to subsidies which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), there is no question of subsidies in this Bill. The levy is to be devoted to technical and market research and to assist the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Accrington (Major Procter) should know that there is nothing in the Bill about wages, but he will see from Clause 2 that there are very few things the Board cannot do. The Board will keep in close touch with the Export Council, and the Council will rely to a great extent on the Board to keep in close touch with the industry.

Mr. Hammersley

My hon. and gallant Friend says that the Clause enables the Board to send out representatives to foreign markets; will he go so far as to say that it is the intention to send these individuals?

Major Lloyd George

Obviously, if the Board is to be created for export pur- poses, and the Clause gives the Board power to take any measures calculated in their opinion to be conducive to the maintenance or extension of export trade in the industry, including advertising and the giving of demonstrations and instruction with respect to the use of products of the industry. I cannot conceive how anybody could carry out those duties without sending somebody abroad.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)

I should like to know at whose desire it is that this Clause has been left permissive. I should have thought this would be so helpful to industry that it would have been made obligatory.

Major Lloyd George

This is an enabling Bill and really gives them power to do things which they have wanted to do for a long time.

Mr. Burke (Burnley)

It does not enable the industry to do anything.

Major Lloyd George

I mean the Board.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.