HC Deb 03 June 1946 vol 423 cc1593-6
23. Mr. Haworth

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he proposes to take on the Report of the Cotton Industry Working Party.

Mr. Belcher

As the answer is long, I will, with permission, make a statement after Questions.


Mr. Belcher

My right hon. and learned Friend is deeply grateful to Sir George Schuster and to the members of the Working Party for the cotton industry who have set out, in a Report of great clarity and ability, covering an immense field, problems that must be considered urgently by the industry and the Government. The Report is receiving the close attention of the Government, but consideration of so important a document must necessarily take some time. I trust that, in the meantime, individual firms in the industry, and representative organisations, will study the Report very carefully since it is clear that early action will have to be taken by all concerned to put this major industry on a sound and healthy basis. The various sections of the industry will, no doubt, put forward their own views as to the main objectives and recommendations of the Report; and the Government will wish, before final decisions are reached, to have the opportunity of discussing some important aspects of the proposals with bodies representing employers and operatives in the industry.

The Working Party have recommended that a Cotton Council should be set up as a central body for the industry and should have among its functions the responsibility of supplying a channel through which the industry as a whole could express their views to the Government. This function would be inherited from the present Cotton Board, which was set up under the Cotton Industry Act, 1940, and the Government have decided that the Cotton Board should continue to exercise it until such time as any desirable constitutional or other adjustments have received legislative sanction. I am glad to say that the members of the Cotton Board have agreed to remain in office, and my right hon. and learned Friend has been assured of their wholehearted cooperation in the task. Sir Raymond Streat has accepted our invitation to make his services available over the next five years as Chairman of the Cotton Board, and in a similar position on any new successor body.

There are two further points on which the Working Party recommended immediate action: They proposed that surveys should be made of the existing plant, capacity, etc., of the industry, and the Government regard the carrying out of such surveys as an essential and, they hope, non-controversial preliminary to any measures designed to help the re-equipment of the industry. Arrangements are, therefore, being made jointly by the Cotton Board and the Cotton Control to institute surveys forthwith. The Working Party have also made recommendations for an immediate investigation into certain aspects of the position on textile machinery supplies. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, whose Department, working in conjunction with the textile machinery manufacturers, have been stimulating the supply of textile machinery, appointing a small committee—under the chairmanship of the Hon. Mr. Justice Evershed—to investigate on his behalf and report on those matters connected with the manufacture and supply of textile machinery to the cotton industry recommended for immediate investigation in the Report of the Working Party.

Meanwhile, the Government wish it to be clearly understood that every desirable measure for improving output by individual firms should be pressed forward with urgency, and that the consideration of the Report should not be regarded as a reason for delay. If, in any case, the Board of Trade can help to overcome difficulties they will be glad to be consulted.

Major Haughton

Will exchange be made available if firms wish to import, say, automatic machinery, from America, to fulfil the suggestions made in this Report?

Mr. Belcher

That, of course, is one of the questions which will have to be considered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, who, as I have informed the House, is looking into this matter as one of urgency.

Mr. Stanley Prescott

Pending the final decision of the Government on the recommendations in this Report, and the necessary introduction of legislation, to what extent will the powers of the present Cotton Board be extended?

Mr. Belcher

It is not proposed, at the moment, to extend the powers of the Cotton Board at all; they will continue with their present functions. What will happen to the Cotton Board, or whether any other body will be substituted for the Board eventually, is a matter for consideration.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

In view of the importance of this industry to the export trade, and the necessity for urgency in putting it on its feet, has my hon. Friend considered whether any advantage would be gained by having a discussion in the House on the Report before the Government have committed themselves to any policy?

Mr. Belcher

That is a question which I should have thought would appropriately have been put to the Leader of the House, and I suggest that my hon. Friend does so.

Mr. Silverman

But will my hon. Friend bear in mind that I was not asking about time for discussion, but whether he thought it was a desirable thing to do? If he does not, there would be no need to get into touch with the Leader of the House.

Mr. Belcher

I am not sure that what I feel about the matter will have a great deal to do with it, but I will certainly consider it.

Mr. Suteliffe

In considering this Report in detail, will the Government first of all direct their attention to those parts of the Report on which complete agreement has been reached?

Mr. Belcher

I should think that would follow naturally.

Mr. Erroll

Will the hon. Gentleman give the names and emoluments of the Textile Machinery Committee, which is to be set up under Mr. Justice Evershed?

Mr. Belcher

That has not yet been determined. I can only suggest that the hon. Gentleman puts down a Question.

Sir W. Smithers

Will Sir Raymond Streat, or whoever is in control for the next few years, be authorised by the Government to deal in futures? I want an answer to that.