HC Deb 31 January 1952 vol 495 cc335-7
3. Mr. F. J. Erroll

asked the President of the Board of Trade if the Cotton Import Committee set up under the chairmanship of Sir Richard Hopkins has now reported to him on the question how, in the current foreign exchange position, cotton can best be supplied to the United Kingdom cotton industry on the most advantageous terms as to quality and price.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

No, Sir.

Mr. Erroll

Am I right in understanding from that brief answer that the whole matter is in suspense while this Committee ponders it?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. I have not received the report which was the subject of the Question I was asked, but the Committee is meeting regularly and frequently. I have made personal inquiries as to its progress and I am satisfied that the work is going on as fast as it can in this complex matter.

Mr. Walter Fletcher

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind, in view of the present dollar situation, the need for this Committee to report at the earliest possible date?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I have already represented to Sir Richard Hopkins that we would like an early report from the Committee, but I am satisfied that he is progressing well with his work.

14. Mr. W. A. Burke

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware of the large number of idle looms and unemployed weavers in Lancashire and if he will assist the Lancashire cotton trade by preventing further imports of Japanese grey cloth into this country.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I am conscious that the Lancashire weaving industry is passing through a difficult period. The latest published figures show that on 10th December, 1951, out of a total of 120,000 employees in the cotton weaving industry in the north-west, 390 or 0.3 per cent. were totally unemployed and 365 or 0.3 per cent. temporarily stopped. I am aware that short-time working has increased since then, particularly at Christmas.

I am reviewing the future level of imports of grey cloth in consultation with representative bodies in the industry, but I would remind the hon. Member that imports of grey cloth help the industry to keep alive its trade connections in colonial markets, as well as maintaining employment in the finishing sections of the industry.

Mr. Burke

Does the Minister not realise that those trade connections can be kept alive by cloth manufactured in this country as well as processed here? Why allow foreign manufactured cloth to come here, to be processed, and then to be exported as British cloth, while Lancashire looms are idle?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The hon. Member is, as he is aware, raising a point which is very controversial within the industry. The fact is that Lancashire weavers have been unable to supply in sufficient volume the types of cheap cloth needed by the Colonies.

Mr. Burke

Is the Minister aware that there is nothing controversial in the industry about the danger of Japanese competition?

Mr. Richard Fort

Would my right hon. Friend undertake to prohibit the import for refinishing here of Japanese or other foreign cloth which is destined for the home market, whatever may be re-exported from this country to low-priced colonial markets?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I understand that all this Japanese grey cloth is, in fact, finished and re-exported.