HC Deb 07 March 1940 vol 358 cc723-8

11.47 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

I beg to move, in page 6, line 4, to leave out "twelve," and to insert "ten."

The object of this Amendment is to reduce the number of members of the Board from 12 to 10, and two Amendments which follow deal with the method of doing it, and so the three Amendments go together. We propose to make the reduction by leaving out two of the interests which are to be represented on the Board, those mentioned in paragraphs (b) and (f), the business of making rayon fibre and the business of the merchants engaged in the export trade. My principal objection is to the rayon producer as a producer being on the Board at all. He has, it is true, an interest in the export trade, in that he produces the fibre out of which rayon is manufactured into cloth, but in that respect he is in no different position from that of the grower of cotton. I fail to see, as I have failed to see from the beginning, why he should as a producer be on this Board at all. In the previous Bill opportunities were sought for the rayon producer to take his place on the Board, and in Committee upstairs we fought long and tenaciously to prevent that interest, which we thought would be a detrimental one, from coming in on the ground floor. We said that if that trade required an export committee, provision for it was contained in the other Act of Parliament which was passed and which has been suspended, but we always opposed the Clause that they should be represented on this Board. This Schedule makes provision for it. Is it clearly understood that those concerned here simply produce the raw material and that the vast majority of that raw material is manufactured outside the cotton industry altogether? As a matter of factless than 10 per cent. of rayon is manufactured by the rayon producers from their own materials.

That brings me to the point about which I am particularly' concerned. The cotton export trade about which we boast so much was built upon a cheap product. I sometimes wonder whether that wonderful industry which I have heard described as the basis of industrial development, is worth the boasting. It was based on cheap labour. It is my object to see that wages are maintained, and it is because I have at the back of my mind the fear that the presence of rayon producers on this Cotton Board will have a detrimental effect on the standard of wages won after long years of struggle in Lancashire that I am anxious to remove the representatives of these people from the Board. In other parts of the country wages paid in the rayon trade are less than in Lancashire. I object to the building-up of an export trade in rayon if it is going to be based upon low wages. We have paid in the physique of our people in Lancashire for the success of the export trade in cotton goods, and I think it is far too high a price to pay, even for a wonderful export trade. I would rather see the rayon export trade developed elsewhere unless it is based on reasonable labour conditions. That is why we are pressing for the removal of rayon representatives from the Board.

Whatever else may be said about the success of the cotton industry, it has not been due to the fact that we have been short of merchants. Their success in the last few years has not been such as to lead me to believe that their representation on this Board will be for the advantage of the Board. One of the members of the Cotton Board is to be an independent person, and others are to be appointed as having special knowledge of the industry and special knowledge of the business of the merchants. I should have more faith in the judgment of that independent person if he were left to himself. I understand he must have no interest in the business. His advice would be more beneficial, both to the Cotton Board and to the Board of Trade, if he were left to himself, without being influenced by one who has worked as a merchant in the trade.

For these reasons we are moving to reduce the number to 10. We have indicated the way in which it can be reduced. I have often argued, not here, but elsewhere, that strength can be added to a committee by removing some of its members. I have sometimes thought that strength would be added to the House of Commons by removing some of its Members—althoughI admit that it depends upon who wishes to remove them and who is to be removed. We are urging the acceptance of this Amendment in order that the Board can be strengthened from the standpoint of the industry which it is primarily intended to benefit.

11.56 p.m.

Sir H. Files

I hope the Board of Trade will resist this Amendment, which I regard as pernicious. I would invite the Committee to consider for a moment what would be its effect. Whatever an exporter has at his disposal, he has a specialized knowledge of the various markets. It you antagonize the merchant section of your business, any of those merchants with branch houses in various parts of the world need not come to Lancashire at all. They can go to Japan, India, Italy or America. It would be a very grave mistake to antagonize the merchant section of the cotton trade, and I therefore cannot support this Amendment.

11.57 p.m.

Mr. Burke (Burley)

I do not wish to detain the Committee at this late hour, although I am tempted to do so after listening to the words of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes). Earlier in this Debate he said he spoke for many people in Lancashire. I do not know whether this is another Scottish invasion; but at least he is right about this: He said the English merchants can go to places such as Japan and America, and they can buy their stuff where they like, while Lancashire can go to—(An Hon. Member: "Where they like.")—where they like. That is just what the English merchant has been doing—importing grey cloth into here, having it finished here, and sending it out—

Sir H. Fildes

Importing cloth from where?

Mr. Burke

Bringing cloth in here from Japan, having it finished here, and sending it out as a British production. That is one of the fundamental reasons why we put this Amendment down. I want to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson), that the introduction of two extra persons to this Board does not add to its efficiency. My hon. Friend said that youcan add to the quality of a committee by reducing it in numbers. There is an old Biblical story of a man who reduced his fighting strength from 500 to 50, and with that he won many notable victories. There are two people on this Board who will not add to the efficiency of the Board, but will introduce contention. The rayon people have never worked harmoniously with the cotton people.

Why has the rayon element been introduced into the Board? We know how it has been introduced—irresistible pressure has been brought to bear. But why has it been introduced? I know that one reason which will be given is that they are producers of the raw material of the cotton industry. But, on that argument, why not include representatives of the dyestuffs producers, who are an important part of the industry? Why not include the shuttle manufacturers? There is a dickens of a lot of shuttles used in the cotton industry. If every class of people which has the remotest connection with the industry is to be introduced the Board must be much larger. But the Board would be better if it were smaller; it would be less contentious without these people. I have spoken about the excessive number of merchants in the cotton industry. There are two merchants for every cotton manufacturer. I hope that, in setting up this Board, the Government will not bother with merchants—people who sell pineapples, razor blades, tin trays, glass beads, and, incidentally, a little Lancashire cloth—but will appoint experts who know about Lancashire cloth from A to Z, who are the products of our technical schools: selling agents, who will put Lancashire goods first and foremost in those markets.

I would say to the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department who is here, that you cannot run your export markets rightly now unless you control home markets as well. We have to stop our people from taking the short view, and give them some encouragement. The kind of control that we should envisage is the kind that stimulates, not the kind that hinders.

12.5 a.m.

Major Lloyd George

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down stated that very often the smaller the number the better. I would remind him that the Board proposed in this Bill has three fewer members than the Board set up by the Reorganisation Act last year. I want to stress the fact that there was no question of pressure being brought to bear with regard to the introduction of the first of the two people that he wants removed, namely, the rayon producer. It cannot be denied that rayon bears a very close relation to cotton. Eighty-five per cent. of the rayon woven into fabric is woven on cotton looms, and more than two-thirds of the output of rayon piece goods are produced by firms which also weave cotton. The cotton industry depends on the rayon producers for a considerable proportion of their raw material, but it is equally true that the rayon producers are dependent on the cotton trade for a good deal of their output. The Committee will remember that last year the relation between cotton and rayon was the subject of a good deal of controversy, but the Government feel that at the present time we should really try to sink our differences and concentrate on a thing which is so vital at the moment and, in spite of the difficulties, co-operate for this one great purpose we have in view. Indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War said last year, it is impossible to separate the export interests of cotton and rayon. There is no better way of getting this co-operation that we want than by getting the rayon producer on the Board, and I would stress again that he is only there for the purpose of advising in order that the experts of both industries, rayon and cotton, may be able to assist.

With regard to the merchant, it maybe that there are too many merchants, but that has nothing whatever to do with this Bill. The hon. Member said there were two merchants for every manufacturer, but that is not the proportion suggested for the Board. In the Bill there are seven producers to two merchants.

Mr. Burke

May I say that that has has been the ruin of the cotton trade?

Major Lloyd George

Surely the hon. Gentleman will not deny that this is a Bill to facilitate exports, and it is necessary to have on the Board people who are experienced in ascertaining markets and fulfilling their requirements. Moreover since the independent person cannot be engaged in the export trade while he is in fact on the Board, it is important to have also on the Board somebody else with a special knowledge of the export trade, for the Committee will remember that the whole object of the Bill is to promote the export trade.

Mr. Tomlinson

In view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement that this is only intended for the war, and will finish with the war, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.