HC Deb 08 July 1952 vol 503 cc1073-6
14. Mr. Anthony Greenwood

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will make a statement on his Parliamentary Secretary's recent visit to the textile areas.

15. Mr. Fort

asked the Minister of Labour what information his Parliamentary Secretary gained during his recent visit to Lancashire about the numbers likely to be employed in the textile industry when it reaches the level of activity assumed in the Cotton Working Party's Report of 1946.

Sir W. Monckton

I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for undertaking this visit at my request. The primary object was to see how far the local offices of my Department were successfully playing their part in meeting the difficulties in this area, and on that I am fully reassured. He had also the opportunity of talking freely with trade unions, managements and civic heads about the problems of the textile industry and as a result he felt, as they do, that there is no reason to be pessimistic about the future of the industry.

The factors essential to its long-term success are there—skill, enterprise, excellent industrial relations, and determination to co-operate to overcome the present difficulties. As the immediate set-back is overcome and textile orders improve a steady recovery in employment may be expected, though a return to the height of the post-war boom does not appear to be likely. I am afraid that at present it is not possible to forecast precisely at what level the labour force will settle down.

I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade certain specific points which the Parliamentary Secretary has brought to my notice.

Mr. Greenwood

I appreciate the interest shown by the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, as indicated by the fact that this trip was made. I should like to ask two questions. First, could the Minister explain what the Parliamentary Secretary meant at his Press conference when he said that the Government might have to take a more cautious view than the Working Party, which suggested a possible labour force of 250,000? Secondly, could he say with what other bodies he has been discussing the size of the industry, and particularly the possibility of alternative employment—and how far those discussions have proceeded?

Sir W. Monckton

I think that my hon. Friend was misunderstood when he spoke at the Press conference. As far as I am informed he did not mention a figure of 250,000, which I should regard as a pessimistic forecast. As to the other questions, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would give me another opportunity of considering them.

Mr. Fort

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the introduction of new industries into such East Lancashire towns as Padiham, Great Harwood and Nelson—all of which depend upon textiles for their employment—is being delayed by the absence of skilled engineering labour? If so, what action is he taking to make sure that there is sufficient skilled engineering labour to make it attractive for new industries to go there?

Sir W. Monckton

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, the shortage of skilled labour is not confined to this industry or to this district. It is a difficulty which is also met with elsewhere, and it is one of the problems which have to be considered when diversification of industry in an area such as this is under consideration.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is it not too early to forecast at what level the labour required in the cotton industry will settle down? Does not the Minister appreciate that it would be wrong to wait and see, over the years, at what level it settles down, on a laissez-faire principle? The Government should make up its mind now what is likely to be the optimum level and begin to introduce new industries in those areas which have so far been almost 100 per cent. cotton areas.

Sir W. Monckton

We are most concerned to introduce other industries when the opportunity occurs, but as for fixing a figure here and now and not putting it off for a period of years, or anything of that sort, I think that when the industry itself cannot give a figure it would be dangerous for me to hazard a guess at a moment like this.

Mrs. Castle

Is the Minister aware that one of the most serious factors of the situation is that the recession in cotton has once again diverted juvenile labour from the industry, so that the age level is once again rising? We cannot hope to build up a prosperous cotton industry with an aged working population. Does not he therefore agree that it is imperative that the Government should give some lead to the industry and make some kind of plan showing what part the Government expect the industry to play in the internal and external markets of this country?

Sir W. Monckton

I appreciate the danger of an ageing population if young people are diverted to other industries. I had hoped that what I have said today would indicate that, though I do not feel able to give a figure, the Government are not pessimistic about the future of this industry and that people will not be encouraged to leave it for fear of the future.